FRANKFORT — After an almost hourlong debate, the state House on Thursday passed a measure that would ban text messaging by drivers while a car is in motion.
House Bill 43 also would ban all uses of a cell phone for drivers under the age of 18 while in a moving car.
The measure was approved on an 80-16 vote, with three members not voting. It now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said 24 teens lost their lives on Kentucky roads because they or another driver were distracted by a communication device in 2009. Richards, the sponsor of the bill, said banning the use of all communication devices for teens until they are 18 would help establish good driving habits.
The bill, he said, "is about saving lives and saving people from serious injury."
The ban on texting for all adults — excluding emergency personnel who need to communicate via text for their jobs — would also save lives, Richards argued Thursday.
But many lawmakers had questions about how the measure would be enforced. Others said there are existing laws that punish distracted drivers.
Rep. Alecia Webb Edgington, R-Fort Wright, a former state police officer, argued that it may be too difficult for the police to determine if someone was simply answering their phone or trying to text because most phones have both capabilities.
Other members expressed concern about whether it was constitutional to restrict such behavior and were skeptical that a ban would stop people from texting or decrease accidents.
Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, said he voted against the measure in the House Transportation Committee but changed his vote Thursday after his wife was in a traffic accident Wednesday night. His wife told him that she had heard her phone ring or chime, had turned to answer it and ran into another driver who was also talking on her cell phone.
"I've changed my mind," Hall said. "I've had a changed heart."
It's not clear how the bill will fare in the Republican-controlled Senate, although Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, has said there is support in the Senate for a similar bill that she sponsored.