Carlson working to craft cell-phone law

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NORTH BEND - What is now an annoyance for some drivers and a crucial mode of communication for others in North Bend may soon be against the law.

North Bend City Councilman Ed Carlson said at last Tuesday's council meeting that he and City Attorney Mike Kenyon were working on drafting an ordinance that would make using a cellular phone while operating a motor vehicle against the law.

Although the specifics of the ordinance have yet to be determined, Carlson said the penalty for being caught using a cell phone while driving would be minor - about a $75 fine - and would mostly be used only when a police officer pulled someone over for another infraction.

"We're not going to have police officers out looking for people with cell phones while they are driving," Carlson said. "It's just another arrow in the law-enforcement quiver. It's not going to be a money maker."

Carlson, who is on North Bend's Public Safety Commission, said he shouldn't have any problem linking cell-phone use to an increase in accidents, adding that he has found linking cell-phone use to car accidents on the Internet.

He said the main problem with cell phones and driving is not the physical distraction from operating the phone, but the mental distraction of trying to carry on a conversation with someone.

"The only problem I think [the ordinance] will have is political," Carlson said, acknowledging his proposal could meet some stiff competition from a wired community.

"I know I'm sticking my neck out on this," Carlson said. "It would be nice if the state did it, but there is nothing wrong with individual communities leading the way on the issue."

When the ordinance was first mentioned at a City Council meeting on Aug. 7, it received a mixed reaction. North Bend Mayor Joan Simpson said she would be against any ordinance forbidding the use of cell phones, and King County Sheriff Sgt. Grant Stewart said enforcing the ordinance would be difficult.

"We get a lot of transient traffic through North Bend, and they're going to miss any sign we have when they come in," Stewart said in August.

At last week's meeting, Carlson said he believed some council members would oppose the ordinance, but he knew that they would keep their minds open. Councilman Jim Gildersleeve said he has not made a decision about the ordinance and was hesitant to predict how his fellow council members would vote.

"I haven't heard the pros and cons of the issue, and I just haven't thought about it that much," Gildersleeve said.

Carlson said he would like to see the ordinance on the City Council agenda by the end of the year.

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