La. lawmaker looks to crack down on cellphone use behind the wheel

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A House panel approved a bill essentially making it illegal to have a phone in your hand while behind the wheel.

Authored by Rep. Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge, the legislation aims to crack down on distracted driving. It applies to everything from surfing Facebook to making a phone call.

Huval said his bill is about protecting families and preventing fatal crashes. In committee, families told stories of loved ones killed when their cars were hit by people reportedly texting while behind the wheel.

Suzanne Salter told the story of her daughter Nicole, who was killed the day after Christmas in 2014.

Nicole was on the road when she was hit from behind. Police say the driver who rear-ended her was texting.

"If she would have looked up on the road, she would have seen the blinkers and the brake lights. She wasn't looking at the road, she was looking at her phone," Salter said.

Nicole left behind three young children, who are now forced to go through life without a mother.

"We don't want anyone else to go through the horror of what we deal with every day," Salter said.

Under Huval's bill, abusers face punishments ranging from a $125 dollar fine to a suspended license. Huval said there are exceptions, including in emergency situations.

"It does not stop you from using your phone if you have blue tooth accessibility or if you have wireless earphones to your phone," he said.

Huval said the current cell phone law applies mainly to school zones.

The bill got out of House Committee and now heads to the full House for consideration.

Several families who have lost people to distracted driving were there to voice their support.

"They're actually taking their lives, and putting other peoples' lives at risk," said Suzanne Salter, whose daughter died in a crash caused by a distracted driver. "They're not watching the road. Something can happen and they can kill someone. And that's what's happened to us."

The bill passed the House Committee on Transportation, Highways, and Public works favorably on Tuesday. It now heads to the full House for consideration. It could be amended throughout this process.

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