Tennessee House panel passes bill that would ticket drivers talking on cell phones

A proposed bill would ban talking on a cellphone while driving in Tennessee, unless the driver is using a hands-free device.

NASHVILLE - Tennessee drivers operating a vehicle while talking on a hand-held cell phone could get slapped with a ticket under a bill that passed a major House panel Tuesday after a rollicking debate and a father's plea for lawmakers to act.

Transportation Committee members' discussions ranged from concerns about "overreaching government" and potential backlash from constituents to proponents arguing about responsibility and public safety.

It was approved on a voice vote after lengthy debate including testimony from Doug Ralls of Brentwood, Tenn., whose 23-year-old son died in 2009 when his car was struck by a distracted driver who lost control of her vehicle while reaching to answer a cell phone.

The bill would make hand-held use of a cell phone while driving a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a $50 fine.