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Cell-phone vote on hold

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NORTH BEND - The City Council voted at its Tuesday, March 19, meeting to delay a vote on the controversial cellular-phone ordinance pending a council work-study meeting April 30.

Council members expressed concern that they had yet to fully consider the swell of public opinion surrounding the ordinance, which would ban all cell-phone use by drivers within city limits.

Hands-free cell-phone models, emergency vehicles and those making emergency calls would be exempt from the ordinance. It would penalize drivers up to $100 if they are caught talking on a cell phone while driving a vehicle.

North Bend residents and business owners expressed reservations at the City Council meeting that such a law would jeopardize shoppers from coming into North Bend.

"With an economic downturn, it has been a struggle for us business owners," said Barb Margolis, co-owner of The Iron Age metal shop in North Bend. "We need all the help we can get, and this is going to scare away customers."

Others said the law goes too far in trying to legislate civility.

"You shouldn't do this kind of social experiment," said Susan Sherman, co-owner of the McGrath Building in North Bend. "How does a friendly reminder become a legal issue?"

Council debate was limited due to the fact that the ordinance was sent to a work-study meeting. Councilman Jack Webber, however, had submitted a position paper prior to that outlining what information he has gathered since discussion about the ordinance started late last year.

He included summaries of studies from the University of Utah and the American Automobile Association (AAA) that showed drivers who used cell phones were at a higher risk of getting into an accident.

"A multitude of statistics, scientific studies and numerous anecdotal records appear to me to be consistent and conclusive in showing that drivers using cell phones have anywhere from two to nine times higher increased risk of being physically, visually and cognitively distracted from changing traffic conditions," Webber stated in his paper.

Jim Westlake, owner of Velocity Wireless in North Bend, said he is suspicious of any studies regarding cell phones.

"Whatever studies they have, we could find one that goes against it," he said.

Other business owners don't think the ordinance will have an effect on them, and that the whole exercise may just be a waste of time.

"I don't really think it is necessary, but if it does pass, I think people will still come," said Cornelia Cordova, co-owner of George's Bakery and Deli in North Bend.

Despite the criticism, Councilman Ed Carlson, who first introduced the ordinance, remains confident he has the support to not only pass it, but to please the public as well.

"The more and more people look into this, the more they are convinced it is a good idea," he said.

The ordinance would replace a city law passed last December that punishes drivers who commit a traffic violation when engaged in a "distracting activity" while driving. In that ordinance, the distracting activity is a secondary offense, meaning a driver cannot be pulled over just for doing it.

North Bend is the first city in Washington to consider enacting a law specifically restricting the use of cell phones by drivers.

The earliest the ordinance would be brought before the council again would be at its meeting on May 7.

You can reach Ben Cape at (425) 888-2311, or e-mail him at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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