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States bar teen drivers’ cell-phone use

Associated Press

A growing number of states are creating legal barriers to keep young drivers from using cell phones, even though few ban adults from talking – at least handsfree – while driving.

Laws in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and Tennessee say young drivers must keep the phone off.

Illinois’s measure is waiting for the governor to sign it. Maine bars cell phones for drivers with provisional licenses up to age 21. New Jersey bans them for those drivers at any age.

At least a dozen more states considered similar measures in recent months and balked, though advocates say they’ll be back.

Lawmakers don’t necessarily expect teenagers to like it – and they don’t.

“I don’t know anybody who says it’s a good idea, or it’s fair to single out 16- or 17-year-olds,” said Adam Bonefeste, a 17-year-old from Springfield, Ill.

Whether or not they’re using cell phones, teens are more likely than older drivers to get into accidents.

At age 16, boys get into 27 crashes per million miles driven and girls 28 crashes. Those numbers drop as drivers age. By the time drivers reach the 20- to-24-year-old group, there are eight crashes per million miles for men, and nine crashes for women, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, based on 2001 data. The insurance institute says 32 16-year-olds died per 100,000 drivers in 2003, four times the fatality rate of the 30-to-59 age group.

Researchers say there clearly is a problem with teen drivers being easily distracted on the road. Their work has bolstered efforts to ease teens into the driving world, giving them more time to learn, restricting nighttime driving and barring other teenage passengers, who sometimes incite dangerous behavior. Now 45 states have some version of what’s called graduated driver’s licenses.

But many researchers say convincing evidence is lacking on a link between cell phone use and accidents – even with studies like one published last winter that found young motorists talking on cell phones react as slowly as senior citizens and are more impaired than drunken drivers.

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