Cellphones, speed traps, cameras

By By Jim Beam / American Press

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 jbeam@americanpress.com.