January 13, 2009
National ban on phoning while driving urged

I suppose this was just a matter of time.

A national safety group is advocating a total ban on cell phone use while driving, saying the practice is clearly dangerous and leads to fatalities.

States should ban drivers from using hand-held and hands-free cell phones, and businesses should prohibit employees from using cell phones while driving on the job, the congressionally chartered National Safety Council says, taking those positions for the first time.

For what it's worth, this is already company policy where I work. I don't know if there's any kind of enforcement mechanism in general, but I imagine there'd be some consequences if you are involved in an accident on company grounds or in a company vehicle while you were talking on a cell.

The group's president and chief executive, Janet Froetscher, likened talking on cell phones to drunken driving, saying cell phone use increases the risk of a crash fourfold.

"When our friends have been drinking, we take the car keys away. It's time to take the cell phone away," Froetscher said in interview.

No state currently bans all cell phone use while driving. Six states -- California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Utah and Washington -- and the District of Columbia ban the use of hand-held cell phones behind the wheel, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Also, 17 states and the district restrict or ban cell phone use by novice drivers.

Council officials acknowledged a total ban could take years.

"Public awareness and the laws haven't caught up with what the scientists are telling us," Froetscher said. "There is no dispute that driving while talking on your cell phone, or texting while driving, is dangerous."

I can't argue with the rationale. The research is clear on this point, driving while talking or texting is dangerous. I can hear Scott Henson's voice in my head saying "Why is the solution to every social problem more cops, courts, and punishment?", however, and it's a fair question to ask. Perhaps here, a massive PR campaign is the way to go, at least during those years it will take to get a law passed. People used to believe a lot of myths about driving while intoxicated too, after all.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 13, 2009 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Comparing cell phone use to drunk driving is absurd. Hands free cell phone use may be the answer. A side note-California recently made it illegal to text while driving.

Posted by: cb on January 13, 2009 12:21 PM

cb, statistically the comparison is not so absurd. And the evidence shows that hand's free doesn't make much difference either.

Posted by: Logan Ratner on January 13, 2009 9:46 PM

I'm willing to bet driving while talking on the cell phone is no more distracting than driving with kids roughhousing in the back seat, but we're not about to ban driving with your children.

Otherwise, I question the data. They say "there are 270 million cell phone users in the U.S. and 80 percent of them talk on the phone while driving," but only 6% of wrecks involve someone on a cell phone. If that many people are talking, chances are some accidents will occur while they're on the phone whether or not that's the proximate cause.

There's an easy regulatory fix: Require automakers to install low-intensity cell phone jammers in new cars. Simply make it impossible (over time). No fines, no cops, no problem.

My guess is that most drivers perceive that talking on the cell phone in your car is a convenience that's worth the risk. Every risk of harm does not require a criminal penalty.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast on January 14, 2009 10:08 AM
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