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Minutes for SB99 - Committee on Transportation

Short Title

Prohibiting the operation of a motor vehicle while using wireless communication device; exceptions; penalties.

Minutes Content for Wed, Feb 8, 2017

Chairperson Petersen opened the hearing on this bill. 

Scott Wells, Office of the Revisor, gave an overview.  The bill would amend the law that prohibits texting while driving to also prohibit operating a motor vehicle while holding a wireless communications device to the person's ear.  The same set of exemptions and exclusions would apply and also added on Page 2, line 11, to summon medical or other emergency assistance.  Section 2 of the bill is the uniform fine schedule and the technical amendment updates the language on Page 7 from unlawful text messaging to "unlawful use of a wireless communication device".

In  response to questions, Mr. Wells responded:

  • Texting is already prohibited.
  • A speaker phone, hands free, would be permitted.
  • Regarding wreckless driving and other distractions, if we define everything, we might miss something, and would need to be reviewed for overlap into other areas.
  • If a speaker phone is in your hand, this bill would only apply if it were up to a person's ear.
  • If holding a phone on your lap, not to your ear, this bill would not apply.
  • With Bluetooth, the phone never leaves a pocket/purse.

Senator Pettey gave proponent testimony (Attachment 1) noting the concerns.  The move is to be hands free but the wording to the ear is a visibility plus for law enforcement who could see the device.  Nearly 303 million people in the U.S. have cell phones and at any given time, 800,000 vehicles are being driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone.  Fourteen states have banned hand-held phone use by all drivers.  This bill would add "holding a wireless communication device to the person's ear" a violation with a fine of $60.00, matching the current fine for texting.  According to a 2014 study, such a ban resulted in more hands free phone use and less overall phone use compared to drivers in non-ban states. Senator Pettey asked for support to continue to make roads safer in Kansas.  She stood for questions.

Senator Skubal has been to a number of presentations that indicate hand-held is worse than drunk driving for distractions.  He asked how this will be enforced?  Overland Park is trying to make this less of a problem.  It is a real problem and we need some solution.  Senator Pettey said she has not had recent conversation with law enforcement.  There has been a texting law for six years and we still see drivers texting.  The legislation does become an education tool for the public.  You can be stopped and you can be fined.

Senator Doll asked how this will stop texting.  Senator Pettey said texting is already legislated and this is another piece of legislation for distracted driving while holding a phone.  Senator Pettey said she is very open to an amendment.  The issue is visibility by law enforcement.  If looking down, can a police officer tell that I have a phone, but at the ear, they can see and enforce.

Senator Schmidt noted in Manhattan, Kansas, there are signs that cell phone usage is prohibited.  How many cities already have this in place?  Senator Pettey indicated she did not know.  Senator Skubal is on a local board which is trying to address this issue. Has that cut down on distracted driving?  Senator Hawk noted for several years, Manhattan has had this as a local law.  He asked if a citizen's arrest for an erratic cell phone driver could help the issue.  Senator Pettey noted a citizen might call 911 and report seeing someone on their phone and it would be up to law enforcement to follow-up and arrest. Senator Hawk said he did not think law enforcement would catch enough cases, but citizens could call the law. 

Senator Fitzgerald asked if there was a definition of operating a motor vehicle.  For instance, an annoyance is a person driving and using the phone or texting while setting at a light and the traffic light has changed twice. Senator Pettey noted on Page 1, line 26, the bill gives instances where this does not apply, and one is if a person is pulled off the road using the device.  Senator Fitzgerald asked if you are considered operating a motor vehicle when stopped at a traffic light.  Mr. Wells will check the definition.

Chairperson Petersen asked if an amateur radio would be defined as a wireless communication device, even if it had a wired microphone.  Mr. Wells responded that Page 1 does define a device, and it probably does include the radio.  Chairperson Petersen asked if FCC licensed amateur radio operators should be included. These may be storm spotters or emergency service persons who must operate while they are moving.  Senator Pettey noted on Page 2, the addition of summons medical or emergency assistance, may cover that.  She added she is  open to all amendments.

Written only proponent testimony (Attachment 2) was provided by Reid Petty, Kansas Department of Transportation.  There were no opponents or neutral testimony.

The hearing on this bill was closed.