Daily Archives: July 2, 2008

Will the New Cell Phone Laws Increase Danger on the Road?

New laws requiring that cell phone use in moving vehicles be handsfree are going into effect in many states this week. For instance, Washington and California. In California:

The law requires use of a hands-free device by drivers over 18 except in a medical or traffic emergency. Text-messaging is not specifically banned for adults, but the California Highway Patrol said they can be cited for negligence under existing laws.
A second law that took effect Tuesday bars drivers under age 18 from using a wireless telephone, pager, laptop or any other electronic communication or mobile service device while driving. The ban extends to hands-free usage and text-messaging.

All these laws make me wonder whether our fine legislators have any kind of clue at all.
If it is really about holding something in your hand shouldn’t the thousands of espresso shops be required to provide your drink in a hands free cup?
The problem, though, is not just that you are holding something in your hand. It is that you are carrying on a conversation. This creates a bit of a diversionary problem when your conversation partner is in the car. It is magnified when they are on the other end of the phone. You have to focus attention both on what you are say and on understanding what the other person is saying which will often include creating a mental image of their facial expressions and body language. Neither your driving or your conversation partner get full attention.
You don’t agree? Do the experiment yourself. Go do an honest comparison of your focus while driving: a) driving with no distractions; b) driving with music playing; c) driving while listening to your favorite talk radio show; d) driving while talking to some in the front seat; e) driving while talking to someone in the back seat and f) driving while talking to some one via a cellphone. Make sure the conversations are realistic. I’d be interested in your results.
Forcing folks to go hands-free also compounds the problem for other drivers. When talkers were holding their phones it was relatively easy to attribute their poor driving to cell phone use as opposed to, say, being drunk. You would probably compensate a little differently and probably did not call 911.
Now that the talkers are being forced to speakerphones and earpieces it will not be easy, if even possible, to determine whether the fool weaving back and forth or crawling along in the left lane is cell phone disabled or something worse.
If you are driving you really should not be talking on your phone at the same time. Pull over.

I encourage everyone to call 911 anytime they see reckless or impeding traffic. No excuses for why it is happening.