DENVER, Colorado (AP) -- Beginning Monday, Colorado is banning young drivers from talking on cellular phones while they're behind the wheel -- a small step more states are taking in hopes of promoting safety without upsetting voters who can't live without the convenience.
The Colorado law affects teens with restricted licenses -- brand-new drivers who must have an adult drive with them for a year. Police can issue a citation only if the driver is stopped for another violation.
This year, 38 states tried to pass legislation restricting cell phones, most focusing on younger drivers and driving while distracted. Bills were passed or are still being considered in 22 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver.
So far, only New York, New Jersey, the District of Columbia and Connecticut prohibit the use of hand-held phones while driving, though other states have adopted limited restrictions for young drivers or school bus drivers.
Most states are looking at limited bans because it is unclear and a bone of contention with the telecommunications industry -- whether cell phone use while driving can be tied to more accidents.
"For lawmakers, it's a foot in the door," said Matt Sundeen, a policy researcher with the legislatures group.
States are willing to take "baby steps" with younger drivers because it's easier to get the legislation passed, Sundeen said. He said many lawmakers oppose stronger laws because they don't want to anger their constituents.
State Rep. Michael Garcia, a Democrat, said he tried and failed three years in a row to get a broader law requiring the use of hands-free cell phones while driving in Colorado.
"It was very clear to me that there wasn't support in the Colorado General Assembly for such a measure," he said. He said a lot of the opposition came from lawmakers, because "legislators don't like being told what to do."
It is difficult to assess the effectiveness of cell phone bans because a lot of laws rely on drivers or witnesses to confirm they were talking on the phone when they had an accident. Sundeen said it is more difficult to prosecute such cases, unlike drunken driving or failure to use a seat belt where there is often clear evidence.
"A lot of data is not there, and it's fairly controversial," Sundeen said.
The cell phone industry says studies show cell phone use was a factor in less than 1 percent of all accidents in states that require reporting -- California, Florida, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
Erin McGee, spokeswoman for CTIA-The Wireless Association, said the association does not oppose limits, as long as they are part of the larger issue of driving while distracted and include punishment for drivers who eat hamburgers or put on makeup and cause an accident.
"Most states have laws that prohibit distracted driving, and perhaps they should enforce them," she said. Source