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Senator Corbin’s “Hands Free” bill re-emerges in the legislature

As a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives, Kevin Corbin worked diligently to get a bill voted into law that would make it illegal for drivers to use their cell phones while driving. The bill never ultimately died — but now as a member of the North Carolina Senate, Sen. Corbin is once again working to get it passed. 

Sen. Corbin is working with a group of bipartisan legislators who recently introduced Senate Bill 20, “Hands-Free NC,” in hopes it will go into effect July 1 if passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Senate Bill 20 would allow the use of cellphones by adults as long as no part of their bodies — including their laps — are required to hold a phone. In effect, it encourages people to route phone calls through their car speakers, a feature of most modern vehicles, or to use devices that attach phones to their bodies.

Sen. Corbin said the bill contains several elements from House Bill 144 from 2019, also titled Hands Free NC, as well as language from a similar bill that passed a few years ago in Georgia, which Corbin has said in the past inspired the North Carolina legislation. 

North Carolina banned texting while driving in 2009, one of 48 states with such a law on the books. Half of the states also have implemented bans on hand-held cellphone usage.

The 2021 attempt is a slimmed-down version of a bill that failed in 2019. House Bill 144 was approved 91-24, but stalled in a Senate committee after an attempted broadening of the language to include eating while driving or applying makeup. The bill also faced robust discussion on whether the bill represented overreach.

The legislation would ban teenagers from all wireless communication use while driving, other than navigation systems in which the address is inputted while the vehicle is not in motion. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are 36 states and Washington, D.C., have laws on the books prohibiting cellphone use by teens with 25 states having bans on hand-held cellphone use altogether. 

The NCSL said that of 220 million wireless subscribers in the U.S., 80% of them use their cellphones while driving. A sobering state from the NCSL: during daylight hours an estimated 800,000 vehicles are being operated by someone currently using a cellphone.

SB20 exempts law enforcement officers, firefighters, ambulance drivers, and other medical personnel, and it allows people to make emergency calls. School bus drivers face stiffer penalties — while most people found guilty of the offense would face fines of $100 to $200, a school bus driver who violated the law could be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor. That charge could result in up to 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Sen. Corbin said SB20 is needed as a public-health safety measure akin to when seat belts were made mandatory. 

“Using a wireless communication device like cell phones not only affects you but a lot of other people when you are distracted while driving,” said Corbin. “This is just common sense legislation to keep the folks across North Carolina safe.” 

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