JUNEAU — A hot button issue from the last legislative session is back: whether to ban drivers from talking on their cell phones while behind the wheel.
Traffic safety advocates want a ban. So do police organizations. Republicans and Democrats alike seem to like the idea of restricting cell phone use by drivers even though they know it's sure to rile up some constituents. It's an idea that's gaining acceptance across the country.
More than 60 percent of Alaska drivers say they at least occasionally talk on their cell phones on the road, according to an August 2010 survey by the Alaska Injury Prevention Center. Nearly one in five said they do so every second or third time they drive.
Research suggests that cell phones are a serious distraction for drivers. A study of drivers in Australia that relied on call records found that cell phone users were four times more likely to get in a crash as other drivers. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that close to 1,000 traffic deaths in 2009 were related to cell phone distractions and suggests the real size of the problem could be masked by inadequate records.
Several bills affecting cell phone use by drivers are before the House Transportation Committee, which held a hearing Tuesday that focused mainly on one measure, House Bill 22, which would restrict drivers to hands-free devices like a Bluetooth headset.
Only two Alaskans, other than agency representatives, testified, and both supported the bill.
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