Businesses Take Note As Cellphone Ban For Drivers Proposed

The state’s top Democratic lawmaker and Madison’s mayor said separately on Friday that they would push to ban all drivers from using cellphones while behind the wheel.

State Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, will introduce legislation in January that prohibits talking on handheld devices, a spokeswoman said, as Madison Mayor Paul Soglin considers a similar ordinance within the city. With the idea looming, delivery businesses and construction contractors said they would have to adjust if the plans gain approval.

A renewed push for cellphone bans comes after the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board concluded that a deadly 2010 crash in Missouri was caused by a teenager sending a flurry of text messages while driving.

“There’s no question that texting and the use of a phone while driving create additional hazards,” Soglin said. “Even if the person using the cellphone isn’t concerned about their well-being, I think we’ve got a concern about all the innocent people on our streets and sidewalks.”

Soglin said he wasn’t sure whether the city had the authority to ban phones in vehicles and he told reporters Friday he’d prefer if state leaders took the lead.

Wisconsin would become the 10th state to prohibit all drivers from using handheld devices in the car, according to data provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most of the states are along the West Coast and the Northeast.

The legislation, which is in drafting stage, will not apply to Bluetooth and other hands-free technology, said Melanie Conklin, a spokesman for Barca.

The move would mean changes for delivery businesses and construction contractors, who rely on workers using phones to communicate in the field. Employees at Nickles Electric sometimes use phones when plans change, co-owner Mike Pohlman said.

“The best-laid plans on a Monday morning can go haywire in a heartbeat,” Pohlman said. “That’s why we’ve got these cellphones nowadays — it’s a tool of the trade.”

But Pohlman, who’s worked at the company for 30 years, said he remembers how to get the job done without cellphones, and said his workers would simply need to adjust.

“It’s hard to believe we’re going go back to the old way, but we’ll figure out a way to use (phones) properly,” Pohlman said.

While some businesses prepare for what may become law in Wisconsin, the trucking industry is already bracing for its own cellphone ban that goes into effect Jan. 3.

“I think (regulators) got everybody’s attention,” said Tom Howells, president of the state Motor Carriers Association. Drivers caught using cellphones face fines of more than $2,700, and companies that allow the device’s use on the road could pay even steeper fines.

Howells said he expected most drivers and companies will eventually see the law’s benefit. The trucking industry could be a leader for other businesses, if more widespread bans are enacted, he said.

“I understand the frustration,” he said. “The answer is, we’re driving 80,000-pound trucks out there, and the consequences are pretty serious.”