Crackdown on distracted driving expands to include hands-free phones

A new government plan involves tougher laws to prevent distracted driving.
A new government plan involves tougher laws to prevent distracted driving.
CBS News

(CBS News) Chapel Hill, N.C. - Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a new plan Thursday to fight what he calls a "national epidemic."

Distracted driving crashes killed more than 3,000 Americans in 2010 and injured 416,000 others. Part of the government's plan involves tougher laws.

Two years ago, 23-year-old Krista Slough was walking to a bus stop when she was hit by a car. A witness told her the driver was on a cell phone.

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"I think this is where my shoes were found," said Slough pointing to the scene of the accident. "I think I fell to about that tree. I don't remember any of this. It's just from hearing from other people."

A brain hemorrhage forced her to miss a year of college. She has chronic headaches and memory lapses.

"One of the most, one of the hardest parts of having a brain injury like this is being able to see something and imagine it but not be able to find the word for it and not be able to describe it in the same efficient way I could before," Slough said.

Asked how she feels about the driver that hit her, she responded: "I feel like it could have been me, I mean I used to talk on my phone."

Slough joined others to push for Chapel Hill's new prohibition of drivers using cell phones. It is the first ban in the country to include hands-free devices.

The penalty is a $25 fine but it only applies to motorists stopped for another traffic violation and there are exceptions for taking calls from a spouse, for instance, or an emergency.

"I think that'll make them think twice at least," Slough said.

But some business owners oppose the ban. Mark England runs an emergency cleaning service. He spends most of the day taking calls on the road.

"It would certainly hurt my business, I would lose work as a result of that and you know, in today's economy you can't really stand to lose much work," said England.

He said that the small fine is hardly a deterrent.

"Twenty five dollars versus what could be a several thousand dollar call, you know," said England. "I'm going to have to take the call."

When asked how he would respond to people who need to be on the phone for work, England said, "We didn't always have cell phones and the world went around. So I think you can pull over and it's not going to kill you to call them back ten seconds later, but it could kill somebody else or yourself while using a cell phone and driving."

Chapel Hill's ban is on hold while some legal issues are resolved. The National Transportation Safety Board wants similar policies enacted nationwide - the only exception, cars with built in phones.