June 19, 2001 11:00 pm

Bills have been introduced in several states that would yank the cell phones out of the hands of yakking motorists.

Most of the wind thats driving these bills is being blown by drivers who do not use cell phones in their cars, but are concerned about the guy in the lane next to them.

Such legislation is premature. Lawmakers should not pass bills until it is shown that cell phones are causing a disproportionate number of accidents. Drivers who enjoy calling their friends and family on the phone can do themselves a favor by using great restraint in using the devices in cars.

Bans on drivers using hand-held phones have been proposed in 40 states, according to The Associated Press. None of the bills have passed, although one in New York could win approval fairly soon.

House Bills 2649 and 2943 in Oregon would have banned using a mobile phone or portable computer while driving. The bills have been stalled in committee. And thats a good place for them to stay. Vehicle accident statistics are not showing a strong correlation between phone use and mishaps.

An AAA-funded study by the University of North Carolina showed driver distraction was a factor in 8 percent of 32,303 accidents analyzed from 1995-99. Of those distracting activities, nearly 30 percent of the drivers were distracted by something outside their vehicle. Only 1.5 percent were using a cell phone.

That promising statistic doesnt mean that cell phone users are off the hook. Motorists who use their phones frequently should consider purchasing a dash-mounted cradle or some other device that allows them to use their phones hands-free.

Motorists also must be smart in choosing when to use their phones. A driver cruising along a rural freeway might not have much of a problem with a cell phone. Drivers caught in intensive city-driving situations, requiring quick responses, should avoid using their phones.

Good discretion on the part of users is the best way to prevent laws from being passed that ban cell phone use.

Enjoy our trees

Have a hankering to learn more about

La Grandes trees?

Citizens will have just that opportunity when Brian Kelly, La Grandes urban forester, leads two Summer Solstice tree walks at 7 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m. Saturday.

Meet at the large silver maple on the corner of Washington and Spring avenues and be prepared for a one-hour tour. It will be a good opportunity for people to learn why La Grande is designated a Tree City U.S.A. year after year.