HONOLULU — A national nonprofit is cheering Hawaii's new law that prohibits people from holding cellphones and other portable electronics while driving.
Jonathan Adkins from the Governors Highway Safety Association in Washington says Hawaii's law is tougher than laws in most other states. He says Hawaii is the 11th state to ban hand-held phone use for drivers.
The group says the law also puts Hawaii among 40 states that ban texting. The law's language bans the use of mobile electronic devices like phones or video games while driving, and defines the use of a device as holding it. The ban has few exceptions, including emergency calls.
The measure leaves room for adults who want to use hands-free devices like Bluetooth. But drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using even hands-free devices.
The law also has exceptions for audio equipment, installed navigation devices and video entertainment for backseat passengers.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed the law on Monday. Hawaii's counties already regulate distracted driving, but Abercrombie says the measure will simplify enforcement and make Hawaii's highways safer.
Hawaii Sen. Kalani English from Maui, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, says the Legislature passed the bill to ensure access to federal grant money.
Adkins says that even though county laws already exist, the state law is important.
"It sends a message to drivers that this is going to be taken seriously," he said.
Abercrombie also signed a bill requiring adults to wear seat belts in the back seats of cars. Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, says that 75 percent of backseat passengers are seriously hurt when they don't wear seat belts.
"People's lives will be saved by this new law," he said in a statement. "And at the end of the day, that is really what counts!"
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