Don't telephone while driving in this town it's illegal

Brooklyn, Ohio, enacts first ban in the country

July 03, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BROOKLYN, Ohio -- The mayor of this Cleveland suburb can recall a time when people survived without driving automobiles or talking on telephones -- let alone both at once.

So the town has banned cellular phone use by drivers.

Mayor John Coyne, 82, says the law -- believed to be the first of its kind in the nation -- is just a matter of common sense.

"Things have gotten a little out of hand, don't you think?" said Coyne, noting that some cars now have computers, fax machines, even televisions. "Pull off the road if you want to use an electric shaver, if you want to put on lipstick, if you want to use a cell phone. But if you're driving, for goodness sakes, then keep two hands on the wheel."

Town a trend-setter

Surrounded on three sides by Cleveland, this older suburb of factories, strip malls, modest bungalows and ranch houses, with a population of about 11,000, might not seem like a trend-setter. But it was Brooklyn, in 1966, that passed the first law in the nation to require the use of seat belts.

Talking on the phone while driving here carries a penalty of $100, plus $45 in court costs. So far, the police have only issued warnings. More than 100 people have been stopped for the offense since the ordinance took effect in March.

The grace period will end "in a reasonable time period," said Coyne, after the town posts some no-talking-while-driving signs and people become familiar with the law.

Police Chief James Maloney said he thinks most people know about the law by now. "When a squad car passes, you see them jump off the phone and hide it under the dash."

Support for the ban was fueled by an accident near City Hall, when the automobile of an elderly motorist was rammed by a driver talking on his cell phone.

Maloney witnessed the accident. "The guy was so engrossed in his telephone conversation, he just slammed into the car stopped in front of him at the light," Maloney said. "Even after the crash, the guy still had the phone in his ear."

Except for Brooklyn, no town or state outlaws talking on the phone while driving, according to Tim Hurd, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in Washington. But some countries, including Israel, ban cell phones while driving.

Hurd said the federal safety agency, while cautioning that phones can be a distraction for some drivers, has not focused on them as a particular danger.

Tom Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, a trade group that opposes the Brooklyn law, said the issue is not the telephone, but the driver. He said the telephone industry has been running ads and sending mail to remind people to drive safely while using a cell phone. Some states, including California, Wisconsin and Utah, have campaigns that do the same.

Similar reactions

He said new technology has often sparked worries about road safety. Some states once drafted legislation to ban radios from cars.

He added: "When windshield wipers were first introduced, people said, `These things are going to be hypnotic -- people won't be able to drive -- better stay with the goggles."

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