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Congressional Democrats Introduce Cell Phone Legislation

Aired May 22, 2001 - 11:15   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take our viewers to Capitol Hill, where Senator Corzine and Representative Ackerman are talking about legislation they will introduce, federal law that would make it illegal to use your cell phone while you drive in your car. Let's listen in.

REP. GARY ACKERMAN (D), NEW YORK: ... the accidents that occur are caused by distraction. Not all of these are caused by people on cell phones, mind you. But nonetheless, what we are trying to do is create a public awareness, if not by the introduction of the legislation, but by the enactment of the legislation itself. Driving is a multi-faceted kind of thing that's just really common sense. When we're taught how to drive, we place both hands on the wheel and one is at 10 o'clock and one is at two o'clock and common sense tells us that the more we're distracted, the less we're paying attention to what we're doing when we are on the road.

Driving requires your hearing, manual dexterity and looking, using all of these senses. The more of these senses that you use for other purposes, the less you're paying attention to the road. I am habitually on my cell phone. I'm one of those people that uses thousands of minutes a month all the time and I have -- it's not a meeting here tonight, right? But I'll make a confession that I have been on the cell phone I don't know how many hours while driving and my wife pointed out to me not very long ago that I was all over the road while I was in an animated conversation with somebody. And I suddenly realized I was not staying in the lane and my driving was what you might call erratic.

And I don't know how many times I have noticed other drivers and muttered under my breath, "What do they think they're doing? They're endangering their own lives and the lives and safety of everybody else on the road."

So this legislation would hopefully create the public awareness and the atmosphere and the legal limitations to prevent people from doing just that. And we're going to probably have a lot of questions so I'm going to stop right there. The Senator is in the middle of a whole bunch of votes over on the Senate side so I'm going to put him, ask him to speak right now.

SEN. JON CORZINE (D), NEW JERSEY: Thank you, Congressman Ackerman. I have a cell phone, too, and have been known to be a dangerous driver when I am using it and I do think there is a common sense to this that the American people are beginning to recognize and react to. The limited number of polls that have shown that there's serious concern. I think there was a recent one, the Quinnipiac, that showed almost 87 percent of the people reacted that there was a need to understand that this does create a danger in our roadways.

There are statistical studies. There's a "New England Medical Journal" review out that shows that it increases the probability of accidents four-fold relative to driving without conversations on cell phones done in a statistical analysis of objective data, roughly raising the likelihood of accidents to the same level that would be associated with legal blood alcohol content.

I think these things are the recognition of real risks that are associated with it. You see a movement in a number of local communities, certainly in New Jersey there's a big debate going on among a lot of the local communities, a couple, Marlboro and another one of our communities has actually outlawed the use of cell phones while driving and then there is this move in New York State that Senator -- or Governor Pataki has talked about.

I think it is time to recognize that we'll have a lot safer roadways. People's public safety will be enhanced if we have a discipline about it. And I don't think either of us are arguing that you could not have hands-free elements. That certainly would be delegated to the state to determine in their own context. But while we recognize the value and the importance of cell phone technology and its improvements in the quality of life, it also has some bad effects and this is one of those that we want to deal with directly and I think can make a real difference in people's lives.

So I think we'll stop there.

ACKERMAN: There's a small difference in the Senator's bill and mine and that'll be worked out in the conference committee hopefully when we get to that point, and that is the hands-free devices, where in the Senator's legislation he leaves that up to the states to decide whether or not to allow for hands-free. In the legislation I have introduced, we go right away to hands-free and say it has to be a hands-free device. Exemptions for emergencies in both bills.

CORZINE: Yes.

KAGAN: We've been listening to two members of Congress, Senator Jon Corzine and Representative Gary Ackerman, he of New York, Senator Corzine of New Jersey, two gentlemen who are looking to introduce legislation both in the House and the Senate that would, on a federal level, ban the use of cell phones while you're driving. They have a different opinion about what you should do with hands-free options and devices, believing that that's safer. But according to information we have from AAA, they say that a new study shows that, in fact, when you're using the hands-free devices it's no more safer. It's not the phone that's causing the distraction, it's actually the conversation.

We will track both of these bills as they make their way through Congress.

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