AAA urges new cellphone limits for drivers

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AAA Kansas is urging lawmakers to adopt new limits for drivers using cellphones, including a ban for anyone under 18 and for the general public in construction and school zones.

While there have been distracted driving bills considered in the past, AAA Kansas believes this approach is different because it only addresses handheld phones for drivers under 18 and targets specific areas on the road for a broader ban.

The ban for school zones would only apply during designated hours and would not include college campuses. It would only cover elementary and secondary school zones.

Travis Lowe, the lobbyist for AAA, said the legislation was developed in consultation with auto manufacturers and telecommunication companies to address any concerns they might have had with similar proposals in the past.

“We know distracted driving is a pretty large encompassing term, but I think we all might agree that using your phone, being distracted with your phone, is certainly a large contributor to that effect,” Lowe told the Senate Transportation Committee.

“We all have probably seen scenarios as we drive down the interstate passing vehicles or being passed by vehicles where we see scenarios that are probably not the best way to drive,” he said.

About a quarter of the car crashes that occur each year in Kansas are blamed on inattentive driving, according to state transportation officials.

In 2019, the last year for which statistics were available, inattention was the top contributing factor to car crashes in Kansas.

Driver inattention was a factor in 25.1% of the state’s 58,149 crashes that year, state transportation data shows.

It was followed by right-of-way violations at 13.3%, following too closely at 9.7% and driving too fast for conditions at 9%.

During 2019, there were 604 cellphone-related crashes, including six fatalities and 194 injuries and 404 that only damaged property.

From 2014 to 2019 in Kansas, there were 3,701 crashes related to cellphone distractions, including 34 deaths and 1,614 injuries.

The bill, Lowe said, does not affect any city that might take a more aggressive approach to distracted driving.

The bill would not keep local governments from adopting something more stringent in the futue.

It does not apply to anyone making calls on a speaker phone or using Bluetooth technology.

It would only be enforced when the vehicle was on the road and not pulled off to the side in cases where a parent might be picking up a child at school or an accident.

The bill does not affect a state law that the bans texting while driving and it keeps in place a ban on novice drivers from 14-16 who aren’t allowed to use a phone while driving with a graduated driver’s license permit.

Republican Sen. J.R. Claeys of Salina questioned whether the ban should apply to adult drivers in construction or school zones.

“It seems to me that adults could be educated on the need to not use their phone while in a school or construction zone and that it doesn’t require a legal remedy,” he said.

Claeys’ comments drew a light admonition from Jennifer Smith, the president of the nonprofit StopDisractions.org, an organization made up of the families of victims of distracted-driving crashes.

“I don’t want to be negative, but the part about educating adults to not use our phones in the school zones and work zones…if education were simply enough, I would love that,” Smith said told lawmakers.