Should drivers be banned from using a cellphone, even in hands-free mode?
The federal National Transportation Safety Board doesn't believe it makes any difference whether the driver is holding the cellphone or using it in handsfree mode—all cellphone use by motorists is hazardous, the agency said. In a statement issued this week, the board (which has no legal authority to regulate cellphones itself) urged state governments to ban all cellphone use by drivers.
New Jersey already has one of the toughest laws in the nation on the use of cellphones while driving. And a bill introduced last month in the Assembly would make it even tougher, adding up to two months in jail to the current $100 fine.
But the state Court of Appeals interpreted that law in a decision last July that some critics say weakened the legislation. Police in Teaneck arrested a man who they said they saw holding a cellphone and pushing buttons on the keypad. He was convicted in municipal court and a Superior Court upheld a fine of $106 plus court costs of $33. But the Court of Appeals, citing an exception in the New Jersey law that allows the use of hands-free devices, said that holding the phone and pushing buttons to activate it was allowed, if the motorist was doing so to use it in hands-free mode. Click here to read the text of the court's opinion.
Some scientists at Rutgers and at Stevens Institute of Technology say they have a technological solution to the problem. They say they have figured out a way to shut down the driver's cellphone without turning off the cellphones of passengers in the car. But they concede the system may not work everywhere.