Many young drivers in Kansas won’t be allowed to use their cell phones while behind the wheel starting next year.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has signed legislation that restricts cell phone use for some teenage drivers and raises the minimum age for getting an unrestricted driver’s license from 16 to 17. The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2010.
Kansas would become the 49th state to adopt graduated licenses. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says 19 other states restrict cell phone and texting by novice drivers.
The new law bans those with learner’s permits, farm permits or restricted licenses from operating cell phones, text-messaging devices, audio-video players or laptop computers until they are at least 16 1/2. Drivers could use a cell phone to report illegal activities or summon emergency assistance.
Kansans would still be able to obtain farm permits and learner’s permits at age 14. Teens with learner’s permits may drive when they’re accompanied by an adult.
But drivers would have to have a farm or learner’s permit for one year instead of the current six months before obtaining a restricted license.
The state would keep its current policy of allowing a 15-year-old with a restricted license to drive unsupervised to and from school and work.
A 16-year-old with a restricted license could drive unsupervised anywhere from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., provided the young motorists already had 50 hours of adult-supervised driving. After six months, the curfew on unsupervised driving could be dropped, as would the ban on cell phones.
“Lots of young drivers lack the skills to be behind the wheel. It’s a dangerous instrument, a car, and often that’s compounded by having friends in the car, and cell phones going on and lots of other activities,” Sebelius said.
Kansas Department of Transportation statistics show that in 2007, 350 drivers were involved in vehicle accidents where the use of a cell phone or other electronic device was a factor, and 32 percent of them were ages 14 to19.
This is the first step the state has taken toward restricting cell phone use by drivers.
Sebelius said officials will examine data from other states where cell phones are banned for all drivers.
“I don’t think there’s any question that having a driver distracted by either having a phone ringing, answering the phone or delivering a message is dangerous for everybody,” she said. “It’s dangerous for the driver, it’s dangerous for the passengers, and it’s dangerous for everybody who’s driving up and down the highway.”
Only five states – California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington – have a total ban on drivers using hand-held cell phones. Efforts to enact similar legislation in Kansas have been tried several times without success.
“All it takes is one bad accident caused by an adult talking on a cell phone and we’ll have legislation,” said Senate Vice President John Vratil, a Leawood Republican.
Reminded that there have been such accidents, Vratil replied: “They haven’t gotten the media play it takes to generate legislation.”
Driver’s license bill is HB 2143.
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