CHEYENNE - The Wyoming Senate on Wednesday killed a bill that would have prohibited beginning drivers from using cell phones, but gave preliminary approval to a ban on sending text messages while driving.
The Senate voted 17-13 against Senate File 65, which would have prohibited beginning drivers from using cellular phones.
The Senate voted 19-10 in favor of Senate File 63, to ban text messaging while driving. The measure still needs final Senate approval before it would go to the House.
Sen. Floyd Esquibel, D-Cheyenne, sponsored both bills. He said his cell phone bill would have applied mainly to teenage drivers on restricted licenses. But he said the ban would have also covered older residents learning to drive later in life.
Esquibel said recent studies have shown that drivers talking on a cell phone show some of the same types of bad driving behavior as people who are impaired by alcohol.
"It seems like everybody's in favor of prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving, as long as it doesn't apply to them," Esquibel said.
Sen. Bruce Burns, a Republican from Sheridan, said cell phone conversations might help keep young people awake when they're driving across Wyoming's vast open space.
"I personally have no problem with a young person talking on a cell phone on the stretch between Kaycee and Casper," he said.
Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, said passing the cell phone ban wouldn't reduce the number of young drivers who talk on their cell phones. "I think we're just going to make criminals out of a lot of people out there," he said.
Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, also said young people are going to use cellular phones regardless of what the government says. He said driver education instructors ought to train young people how to drive and talk on cell phones at the same time.
On the other hand, Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, spoke in favor of the bill. He said beginning drivers shouldn't be allowed to use cell phones during their crucial learning period.
Esquibel said after the vote that he hopes the Legislature will address the issue of banning drivers from using cell phones during the downtime before the next legislative session. He said there have been a number of accidents around the state involving young people who were talking on cell phones.