Gatto: There are lots of reasons to keep cellphones in cars

Associated PressJanuary 23, 2012 

JUNEAU -- The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said Monday that he hopes a proposal to outlaw texting while driving won't be muddied by a push to restrict or ban all cellphone use.

Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, told reporters he understands the idea behind no texting while driving. But he said there are a lot of reasons to keep cellphones in cars. For example, he said they are important for some businesses and they let mothers keep in contact with their children. He said it can be unnerving for parents to miss a call from a child.

The most controversial issue his committee will probably deal with this session is cellphones in cars, he said.

A measure that would have generally banned cellphones while driving failed in Gatto's committee near the end of last year's regular session. The measure made exceptions for emergency situations and would have allowed for use of hands-free devices for adult drivers.

The state's intended ban on texting while driving, passed in 2008, faces a legal challenge, with a magistrate in Kenai late last year finding the Legislature should have been explicit if it meant to prohibit the activity.

"OK, if (the law's) unclear, we'll clarify it," Gatto said.

An explicit ban on texting while driving has been introduced, and is scheduled for its first hearing this week. Gatto is a co-sponsor. He said it's "a little scary" that the bill could be amended to ban cellphone use, period, but he said he doesn't think that will happen.

Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, said he supports such a ban. Herron said he was the victim of a texting driver who hit his car while he was waiting to make a turn in Anchorage last summer. Herron said the woman was texting even after the accident, and took off without talking to him or getting out of the car to check the damage. He said he would have used his own phone to take a picture of her license plate but didn't expect that she would take off.

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