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Should Cell Phone Use While Driving Be Banned?

A look into why the NTSB recommendation of a cell phone driving ban is necessary.

At any moment, almost one in 100 drivers is using an electronic device while operating a vehicle— a 50 percent increase since last year, according to authorities, and that's no small issue.

In fact, it's a big enough concern that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) unanimously recommended a nationwide ban on the non-emergency use of cell phones while driving. This vote was following the investigation of a 2010 fatal accident in Missouri involving two school buses, a bobtail and a car. Two people were killed and 35 were injured in the pileup. The primary cause? Distracted driving from more than one of the drivers. 

This, of course, is not the only major accident like this. According to the NTSB,  more than 3,000 people  lost their lives just last year in distraction-related accidents.

Is 3,000 not a big enough number for you? How about this: More than a half million people were injured in 2009 due to drivers being distracted. They aren't deaths, but they are consequences of self-absorbed driving.

I've been thinking about how many hundreds of drivers I pass on the road each day, especially in this busy area. If the statistic is one cell phone user out of 100, I likely pass dozens of these distracted users per drive, and so do you. Sometimes I am one.

About two out of 10 American drivers and half of those ages 21-24 admitted to sending messages or e-mailing, according a government survey of more than 6,000 drivers in 2010. But guess what? Most participants in the survey don't think they are dangerous when they do it, only when others do.

Just dialing a cell phone increases the risk of a car accident or near accident 2.8 times. According to this short simulation on CNN, one could blindly drive an entire length of a football field trying to send a simple text at highway speeds. 

Some equate talking on a cell phone to drunk driving because your mind is somewhere else. Evidence suggests even Bluetooth users are driving half-blind; missing 50 percent of the information in their driving environment while having a conversation.

It makes sense; several times I have taken a phone call on a long trip and by the time the conversation is over, I realize I don't have a distinct recollection of the miles I just drove. Has that happened to you? It scares the heck out of me and I resolve to be more careful, but like many, I am stupid and forget this the next time I hear my phone beckon.

Many are protesting this recommendation by the NTSB, asking, where's the line? Should we ban eating, too? I don't know, but I know I wouldn't want to be on this bus.

Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association said, “Many drivers won't stop texting until they fear getting a ticket.”

The thing is, we have the ability to stop stupid accidents like these. They are unnecessary. We would like to believe everyone else is to blame, but these accidents are preventable by viewing our texts, our calls, our e-mails and our web surfing as things that actually can wait. Not every opportunity to multi-task has to be taken.

We can be a part of a step in the right direction by accepting responsibility; we just can't seem to control ourselves at this point. Perhaps a law like this will help us get our driving heads on straight.

The Humble Opining December 19, 2011 at 04:52 PM
"Due in part" is the critical phrase that journalists continually forget to include. On many of those incidents there are mitigating circumstances that leave the "primary root cause" in question, such as alcohol/drug use, speeding, inclimate weather, etc. Before we throw out the baby with the bath water, let's attack the #1 through #5 causes of fatalities (e.g. DUI, eating/drinking while driving) rather than groupthink around the scapegoat de jour.
Erin Gibson (Editor) December 19, 2011 at 05:46 PM
Couldn't you group texting/talking on the phone while driving equally with things like drinking and driving, putting on makeup (guilty), reading , eating, etc. They all are things that we should not be doing while driving because they require our attention, when the only thinking we should be concentrating on is driving!
Jane Burnette December 19, 2011 at 07:14 PM
Yeah, once you're dead, I guess it doesn't matter if it's #1 or #6. Consider: You're in heavy traffic, approaching an intersection, a mom and child starting to walk across the street, a big huge truck making a right turn on red and taking both lanes, and oops! a dog runs in front of your car. Do you think you need ALL of your brain? Oh, no, just a tiny part! The improtant thing is whatever you're texting about,really, that's way more important than having your eyes on the road.
Erin Gibson (Editor) December 20, 2011 at 02:29 AM
Correction to my earlier comment about texting, which has already been banned in Virginia and about 35 other states. This more recent recommendation from NTSB is about cell phone use in general, even hands-free cell phone use.
Erik Wood December 20, 2011 at 06:13 AM
I think legislation has value in raising public awareness in forums like this one but it will be difficult to solely legislate our way out of this issue. I just read that over 3/4 of teens text daily - many text more than 4000 times a month. New college students no longer have email addresses! They use texting and Facebook - even with their professors. Tweens (ages 9 -12) send texts to each other from their bikes. This text and drive issue is in its infancy and its not going away. I decided to do something about distracted driving after my three year old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting driver. Instead of a shackle that locks down phones and alienates the user (especially teens) I built a tool called OTTER that is a simple GPS based, texting auto reply app for smartphones. It also silences call ringtones while driving unless you have a bluetooth enabled. I think if we can empower the individual then change will come to our highways now and not just our laws. Erik Wood, owner OTTER LLC OTTER app
Eileen Graham December 21, 2011 at 08:04 PM
What a great idea, Erik! I will look into the app.

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