Don't drink and drive has been a long-standing caution. A new warning could soon join its ranks: Don't talk and drive.

Members of the House Transportation Committee held a hearing last week on a bill that would stop motorists from using hand-held cell phones while driving. The bill will move to the House floor in the coming weeks | without support from the committee.

And some local police officials and legislators say a ban might not be as helpful as the bill's sponsors hope.

Nearly 80 percent of all car accidents and 65 percent of near accidents nationally involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds of the accident, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

While cell-phone use was found to be the most common distraction, it also was found to cause far fewer accidents than other activities.

"You'd be surprised at how many people try to read the paper while driving," Kingston police Chief Donald Briggs said. "A number of crashes are a result of people looking down to adjust CD players, reaching for a coffee cup, lighting a cigarette."

Briggs said there are many factors involved in a car crash, and while distracted driving can play a role, that term encompasses much more than the use of a cell phone.

"I don't see cell phones as one major significant factor, although there probably is a small percentage of drivers that shouldn't be talking on cell phones because they're not paying attention," he said.

California, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and the District of Columbia all have banned hand-held cell phones while driving. Massachusetts is one of five states that allows municipalities to ban cell-phone use. Brookline, Mass., was the first community to do so. Massachusetts drivers cannot use cell phones while driving school buses. Maine restricts the use of cell phones by teenage drivers.

New Hampshire law allows police to fine drivers for negligent driving, which can include anything from eating while driving to turning around to attend to children. But the citation is usually added when a more serious violation occurs, police said.

Rep. Laura Pantelakos, D-Portsmouth, the bill's sponsor, said the negligent driving statute isn't being enforced often enough to make a difference. While she acknowledged that many activities can distract drivers, she said cell-phone use is easy to see and should be easy to stop.

While the bill has five sponsors, at least one local legislator thinks it is too narrow to be enforced.

"The fact of the matter is that cell phones are less of a distraction than a lot of other things," said Rep. Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry. "Banning one piece of equipment in today's electronic world isn't going to solve the problem."

Police do make a note when an accident involves a cell phone or other distraction. If a driver causes an accident and police can show the driver was distracted at the time | by a phone or anything else | that driver may face a fine of $250 to $500 for the first offense, and up to $1,000 for the second.

Plaistow Deputy Police Chief Kathleen Jones also said a ban on cell phones might not be the best way to go.

"Do I think it's going to create more tickets? Probably not any more than any other law that might pass," Jones said. "It's one distraction of many."

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