Can you hear me now?
For Lawrence motorists who use cell phones, the answer is still yes.
The city's Traffic Safety Commission on Monday narrowly rejected a proposed cell phone ban that would have been the stiffest in the country because it would be the first to ban both hand-held and hands-free devices.
"I think there would be some real enforcement issues," said John Ziegelmeyer Jr., chairman of the commission. "I'm real concerned about the hands-free enforceability of the ordinance. I just don't know how an officer is supposed to know if you are singing, talking on the phone or just mumbling.
"And from what I've heard, I think the citizens feel very strongly that this is a bad ordinance."
Now it will be up to city commissioners to pass judgment. The Traffic Safety Commission's action served only as a recommendation. City commissioners will have the issue on an agenda, likely in the next two to three weeks. Commissioners have not publicly stated their position on the issue, and none attended Monday's meeting, which did not end until nearly 11 p.m.
Traffic safety commissioners on Monday mainly heard from people who were opposed to the ban. Commissioners heard from a dozen people opposed to the ban and only two who supported it.
More about the cell phone ban
- 6News video: Traffic safety commissioners vote against cell phone ban
- Driver on phone hits 8-year-old
- All eyes on us as city mulls phone ban (06-03-06)
- Lawrence cell phone ban would be strictest (06-01-06)
- Cell phone ban causes uproar in New York (05-13-06)
- Ban on drivers' use of phones weighed (05-02-06)
"If Lawrence wants to kill economic development, ban cell phones," said Robert Lewis, a retired farmer and financier of several high-tech companies. "Biotechnology companies will not come to this community if you ban cell phones. This is technology we're talking about."
The commission also heard from several small business owners who said the ban would have serious implications for their businesses, and also from citizens who said the ban was an intrusion into personal freedom.
"I know what my limitations are. That is my personal responsibility as a citizen," said Michael Clover, a Lawrence truck driver, who said existing laws were already in place to punish bad drivers regardless of whether they were using a phone. "I know I can't pick up the phone while I'm going around the corner."
Traffic safety commissioners opposed the ban on a 5-4 vote. Several commissioners said the enforcement issues were no greater than many other traffic laws. And several said they were convinced by studies that showed accident risks increased with cell phone usage, although there is no data to suggest how many accidents the devices cause in Lawrence.
"This (ban) would send an important message that safety is more important than personal convenience," Traffic Safety Commissioner Paul Graves said.
Commissioners, though, did support a second ordinance that would double the fine for inattentive driving if a person is involved in an accident while using a cell phone. That would increase the fine from $60 to $120. That passed on a 6-3 vote, with some commissioners voting against it because they wanted offenders to be required to go to a safe driving class rather than being fined.
That ordinance also must be approved by city commissioners before becoming final.
Monday's meeting did include comments from two regional executives for Sprint and Cingular, two of the larger wireless phone companies in the country. They told commissioners that because the ban would be the first of its kind in the country, the industry was committed to opposing it.
"This is a very big issue for us," said Patrick Fucik, a director of state legislative affairs for Sprint.
Traffic Safety Commission briefs
Man arrested during cell-phone debate A Lawrence man was arrested Monday evening at City Hall after he screamed at a woman who was speaking about a proposed cell phone ban, and then disobeyed instructions from a police officer. Mark Cline was forced to the floor of the City Commission chambers by a Lawrence police officer after Cline jumped from his chair and began yelling at a woman who was addressing the Lawrence Traffic Safety Commission about a proposed cell phone ban. Lawrence Police Officer Tracy Russell was at the meeting as a liaison to the Traffic Safety Commission. He put his hand on Cline's arm as he approached the woman and asked him to step out into the lobby. Cline resisted and instead went back to his seat. Russell at that point used his cell phone to call for police backup and waited several minutes for officers to respond. Cline, according to several witnesses, during a break in the meeting attempted to leave the chambers. Russell told him to wait. When Cline ignored that order, he was put face down on the floor until officers arrived and handcuffed him. He was booked into the Douglas County Jail for disorderly conduct.
Speed limit change on Sixth St. advances The city's Traffic Safety Commission unanimously approved an increase in the speed limit on Sixth Street west of Wakarusa Drive from 40 mph to 45 mph. Commissioners on Monday approved the change after receiving a recommendation from the Kansas Department of Transportation that the speeds would be safe for the four-lane road. City commissioners must now give approval to the change before it takes effect.