Cooper: Mobile phone bill not dialed in

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When a driver on a cellphone cuts in front of you or delays traffic while jabbering away, you wonder if state Sen. Jim Tracy isn't right for introducing a bill that outlaws using a mobile phone with your hands while driving. When your child's school calls to tell you he or she has broken an arm or when your boss calls you to tell you the meeting you're heading toward has been canceled, you are sure Tracy's not right.

In truth, the senator's bill is not out to eliminate the use of mobile phones while driving but to ensure what are used are hands-free devices. The problem is most cars aren't equipped with hands-free devices, although accessories are available, and all cellphones aren't capable of hands-free use.

According to Tennessee state statistics, distracted driving deaths have more than doubled since 2006. In 2016, more than 24,700 automobile crashes occurred (up from 10,600 in 2006) where the driver was distracted, and often were due to a mobile phone.

The proposed fine in the bill, which now has been delayed for Tracy to "work on some of the language," is $50 for using a mobile phone with your hands. We're not sure how the senator will alter the language, but we don't believe it's likely to pass.

Even Tracy, who sponsored similar legislation last year, is skeptical.

"I think people will have a hard time giving up their freedom," he told the Nashville Tennessean.

As much as many of us would love to slap a $50 fine on people we pass each day who we're sure aren't capable of driving while using a mobile phone, most of us wouldn't expect to deserve such a fine ourselves. Most people, after all, believe their driving is perfect.

Currently, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, prohibit all drivers from using hand-held mobile phones while driving.

Tennessee already prohibits the use of mobile phones by drivers who have learner's permits or intermediate licenses and by bus drivers. It also is one of eight states that prohibit texting and driving.

We're more inclined toward a bill introduced by Rep. John Holsclaw Jr., R-Elizabethton, who also is sponsoring Tracy's bill in the House, that would increase the penalties for crashes that involve injury or death caused by the use of portable devices.