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Ban cell phone use while driving?

The vast majority of cell phone owners who safely use them while driving have a right to be upset about a federal push to make everybody "hang up and drive."

The government should not punish all motorists for the bad driving of a few: Instead of a blanket ban on cell phone use by all drivers, it would make more sense to target those who can't seem to safely drive and talk on the phone at the same time. They should be cited by police for inattentive driving.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently said he supports banning all cell-phone use by drivers, including hands-free devices.

Saying that cell phones are an unsafe distraction for drivers, the Transportation Department is pushing for action, and according to the Star Tribune, it comes as Minnesota lawmakers have been looking into ways to build on the state's ban on driver texting and restrictions on teens with phones.

The national push includes a new federal Web site,, and a new nonprofit organization called FocusDriven, modeled on Mothers Against Drunk Driving and dedicated to the elimination of cell-phone use by drivers.

Janet Froetscher, president of the National Safety Council, supports the federal effort.

"We hope 2010 will be the year that we build a national consensus on the dangers of cell-phone use while driving," she said.

Safety Council research estimates that 1.4 million crashes a year are caused by drivers talking on phones, up from the 600,000 crashes a year estimated in a Harvard study from 2003.

The number of cell-phone users in the nation has more than doubled since then, to 270 million, she said.

The crash tally translates to one-fourth of all crashes nationwide. In Minnesota, about a quarter of crashes cite distraction as a contributing factor, according to the state's Department of Public Safety.

Even Oprah is hopping on the anti cell phone bus: On Monday, she helped kick off a national campaign to get drivers to put down their cell phones, and pay attention to the road.

The federal government is talking about using a carrot and stick approach to encourage states to adopt laws banning cell phone use while driving. LaHood said the federal government will consider financial incentives and penalties to encourage states to pass new restrictions.

State Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, who heads the Senate transportation committee, said there will likely be a move this year to get the issue on the table in preparation for the 2011 legislative session.

Minnesota won't want to lose out if any federal funding becomes tied to a cell-phone ban, but that doesn't mean the public support is there for a ban. Gov. Tim Pawlenty does not support a full ban.

The Democrats on both the state and federal levels might want to back off on intrusive goverment measures like this one: the public is getting sick of them, and so are we.