Hand-held cellphone ban for Wilmington drivers

    For years, lawmakers in Delaware have considered establishing a ban on cell phone use while driving without being able to come to an agreement.  Now, the state’s largest city has taken action on its own.  Pending approval by the mayor, drivers in Wilmington will face a $50 fine if caught talking on a cell phone while driving starting next year.  “The police will actually have to see the individual with the use of his or her cell phone while driving,” says Wilmington Councilman Mike Brown, who sponsored the ordinance.

    The measure, which was approved by Wilmington City Council Thursday night, also bans the use of cell phones for sending text messages while driving.  There are exemptions from the ban for emergency personnel who need to make work-related phone calls from their cell phones while driving.

    The auto club AAA issued a statement of support for the city’s move, “The ban will make Wilmington safer, no question about it.”  But AAA officials are concerned that drivers will be lulled into a false sense of security while using a hands-free device.  “Drivers who use any kind of cell phone, hands-free or hand-held, are four times more likely to be in a crash,” according to the auto club.  The group says they would prefer to see the state take action, rather than have individual municipalities making “a patchwork of various cell phone laws” throughout the state.

    Brown says he’d be happy for the General Assembly to pass legislation that would ban cell phones statewide, even if it means overriding his city ordinance.
    “There’s no ego here with me.  I’m hoping that the state of Delaware will now say, ‘We’ve got to stop toying around with this.'”

    Once Wilmington Mayor James Baker signs the measure, the ban will go into effect January 1, 2010.

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