Politics & Government

Talking on the phone while driving? That may soon be illegal in NC.

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Some state lawmakers think you should get off your dang phone while driving, and they’re pushing legislation to make it happen.

Under a bill introduced this week, HB 144, North Carolina drivers could be assessed a $100 fine if they’re convicted of talking on the phone while driving. They’d face a $150 fine and could be assessed one insurance point by the state’s Rate Bureau if they’re caught and convicted a second time within 36 months.

The bill, which would go into effect in 2020, still needs approval of the House, Senate and governor to become law.

And it includes exceptions.

The bill would allow for drivers to talk while parked. It also would allow for drivers over age 18 to use a cell phone if it’s “affixed, mounted, or installed” in a way that allows the driver to “initiate, answer, or terminate a call by touching a single button.”

The law wouldn’t apply to drivers who experience emergency situations, unsafe road conditions or mechanical problems. It also wouldn’t apply to emergency responders.

North Carolina is one of 47 states that has already banned texting while driving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. North Carolina could be the 17th state to pass talking-while-driving legislation, according to the NCSL website. Some states allow hands-free devices, while others don’t. Rules vary by state.

HB 144, introduced by three Republicans and a Democrat, is one of at least two traffic-related bills introduced by state lawmakers since they returned to Raleigh in January.

The state Senate on Thursday unanimously approved increased penalties for drivers who don’t change lanes or slow down as they approach emergency vehicles’ flashing lights.

The law already requires drivers to move over when they approach police, fire and paramedic vehicles with emergency lights activated. This bill would increase the penalty for what is now a traffic infraction to a misdemeanor crime. Drivers whose failure to heed the lights causes injury or death to emergency personnel would be charged with felonies carrying increased penalties.

The bill is titled the Officer Jason Quick Act, named after a Lumberton police officer who was killed in December when he was struck by a passing car as he walked across Interstate 95. Quick’s wife, Leah, brought the matter to the attention of state legislators. She and other relatives attended Thursday’s Senate session.

Sen. Danny Britt, a Republican who represents Robeson County, said more than half of all law enforcement deaths in the state last year were related to drivers failing to change lanes. He said more than 1,400 citations were issued. So far this year there have been seven deaths, he said.

Britt said bill sponsors determined that often drivers don’t understand what the law requires. A bill addressing public education and training will be proposed later this year, he said.

Senate Bill 29 goes next to the House.

Paul “Andy” Specht reports on North Carolina leaders and state politics for The News & Observer and PolitiFact. Specht previously covered Raleigh City Hall and town governments around the Triangle. He’s a Raleigh native who graduated from Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. Contact him at aspecht@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4870.


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