Last Modified: Thursday, March 27, 2014 10:23 AM
BATON ROUGE — Mention cellphones, speed traps and traffic cameras in the halls of the Louisiana Legislature and you are guaranteed to get an earful from lawmakers who represent all areas of this state.
Most of them don’t like their colleagues trying to restrict cellphone use. A number of them said constituents call them constantly about those devilish speed trap towns. And many despise traffic cameras.
All three were issues in a lively meeting this week before the House Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee.
Southwest Louisiana is well-represented on the committee. They are Reps. A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles; Johnny Guinn, R-Jennings; Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek; and Frank A. Howard, R-Many.
Rep. Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge, wanted to prohibit the use of hand-held cellphones by drivers. He said there are devices motorists can use that enable them to use their phones without holding them in their hands.
Opponents on the committee wanted no part of Huval’s plan. They had rejected bills by other legislators who in earlier sessions tried to ban hand-held phones. Most of them said there were many distractions while driving, and it’s impossible to ban all of them.
The distractions they mentioned included reading, eating and putting on makeup while driving, having TV sets in vehicles and dealing with four young children in the car at the same time.
Yes, those are distractions. However, with the exception of having children in their vehicles, motorists shouldn’t be doing any of those things while driving on the highways.
Anyone who thinks dialing cellphones isn’t a distraction must not use them often while driving. Finding the right number in those contact lists is a tricky maneuver. Talking isn’t as bad, but anything else is hazardous.
Safety experts say the use of cellphones on the nation’s highways are contributing factors in 52 percent of fatal accidents.
Members of the committee refused to be swayed. Huval, seeing his bill was headed for defeat, voluntarily withdrew it from consideration.
Maybe things will be different next year, but don’t bet on it. Americans love their cellphones, but they could definitely be more responsible when using them while driving.
The entertaining debate came on a bill by Rep. Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro. His legislation would identify speed trap towns with blinking signs, warning drivers of what’s ahead.
Woodworth in Rapides Parish is the most notorious speed trap town, but Krotz Springs and Washington, both in St. Landry Parish, got equal billing during the debate.
“Is this just about Krotz Springs? asked Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs. “Just about everybody I know has gotten a ticket there.”
Pylant said his speed trap bill is only aimed at municipalities that receive 50 percent or more of their operating revenues from traffic violations.
“Revenue-based law enforcement is the wrong way to go,” he said.
A sign with blinking lights that said something like, “Slow down, speed trap town ahead,” would warn motorists, Pylant said.
“That’s what this sign will do. It will slow people down,” he said.
Rep. Howard likes the idea. He and Pylant are former sheriffs and speak with considerable authority. They like tough enforcement of traffic laws, but they want authorities to promote safety, not hand out tickets to fatten their city and town treasuries.
Pylant’s bill got out of committee on a 9-3 vote and is awaiting action by the full House. He may not get those blinking signs he wants, but he should get something. He’s on the right track as far as drivers are concerned. They are tired of being ripped off for other than safety reasons.
Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, got unanimous approval for his bill that prohibits local municipal and parish law enforcement agencies from using traffic cameras on interstate highways.
“As for the idea of placing automated speed enforcement devices on the interstate highway in the name of public safety, this is without a doubt about generating revenue,” he said.
Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, is a former superintendent of State Police. He defended the use of cameras. Stopping motorists puts police officers at risk, he said.
“Police officers can’t be everywhere and speed cameras do alter and change bad drivers’ bad behavior habits,” he said. He predicted that drones would be used someday to catch speeders.
Danahay said the cameras are being promoted by companies that share 50-50 in the revenues generated. Motorists aren’t stopped, but get citations in the mail.
Pylant said he had to pay a $210 fine when his vehicle was photographed by one of the cameras while being driven by another legislator. The fine had to be mailed to Phoenix, Ariz., he said, and a $10 late fee sent to Cincinnati, Ohio.
The town of Welsh had considered using traffic cameras on Interstate 10, but has abandoned the idea.
Danahay said his legislation, if approved, will let law enforcement handle violators the right way — pull them over and give them a warning or a ticket.
Highway safety should always be the main motive for enforcing traffic laws, not raising revenues for local governments that are looking for some quick operating money.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or firstname.lastname@example.org.