Manatee residents split on national cell phone ban

MANATEE -- County Commissioner Donna Hayes and local defense attorney Chris Pratt are like-minded in their volunteer spirit and zeal toward civic duty.

But don’t get them together at a party and bring up cell phones and driving.

Pratt and Hayes represent opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to Tuesday’s recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board to ban all U.S. drivers from using cell phones, even the hands-free type.

For Pratt, it’s cut-and-dried. “I favor the ban,” he said Tuesday. “I think it will save hundreds, maybe thousands of lives a year. Texting and talking distracts people from the requirements of paying attention to driving.”

Hayes’ rebuttal is just as loud and clear.

“I will tell you, if all the cell phones are banned in the U.S., it will be a real detriment to business being done in this country,” Hayes said. “A lot of business is done while driving. I feel if folks are violating a driving law while on the phone, then throw the book at them. But don’t take away my right to use my cell phone while I am driving if I am obeying the law. I think that’s throwing the baby out with the bath water and bringing in more government regulations. I just think it’s a drastic measure to take.”

Manatee opinions on the cell- phone- and- driving debate are all over the map, some closer to Hayes and some closer to Pratt.

For Manatee Sheriff Brad Steube, texting and driving needs to end, but a stop toending talking on the cell phone while driving is not as high a priority, if at all.

“I think the use of cell phones is OK as long as they are the hands-free type,” Steube said Tuesday. “If we do have a ban in Florida, it needs to start with texting. I have seen people narrowly avoiding accidents while texting. But to outlaw the use of cell phones, I don’t think you will see that in Florida. I think you will see them outlaw texting first.”

Steube does say he shakes his head while driving sometimes, like when he finds himself in a 45-mph zone with someone in front of him driving 30-mph while on the phone.

“I am thinking to myself, ‘Can you concentrate on your driving and talk at the same time? Evidently, not,’ ” Steube said.

Palmetto Mmayor Shirley Groover Bryant and Palmetto Ccity Ccommissioner Tamara Cornwell both use a “hands-free” system in their vehicles and are comfortable with it being safe.

“I definitely feel texting should be banned while driving, but if it is hands-free, I don’t see the harm in cell phone talking,” Groover Bryant said. “I just can’t imagine banning cell phone use totally.”

Cornwell’s Kia Soul links Cornwell’s phone through the car’s steering wheel.

“I think the issue is reaction time,” Cornwell said. “I have seen people who are so unaware of their surroundings while talking that they do not go when the light turns green.

“I would have to say, if it is statistically sound and they can show me there has been a definite increase in accidents impacted by people holding a phone, then let’s talk about it,” Cornwell said. “If they banned it, would I miss it? I’ll have to reflect on that. There are certain times when it is so useful.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7768.