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Should cell phone drivers be singled out?

nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,669
OK, I would like to hear some opinions from the crowd here. California has recently passed a law, which takes effect in July 2008, forbidding cell phone use while driving, but of course allowing it as long as you don't have the phone up to your ear - if you are using a headset, or a speakerphone, but not holding the phone, you are fine. In doing so, California becomes like number 39 in the list of states with similar legislation on the books.

My objections to this are twofold:
(1) In all the debate leading up to this "landmark legislation", it was repeated time and again that reliable data from police agencies is EXTREMELY spotty on whether cell phone use makes any contribution to safety or the lack thereof among drivers. Therefore, we have no way of really knowing whether cell phones are realy the menace to the driving public that so many people want to paint them.

Yes, I know that intuitively, it seems obvious to some that cell phone use while driving simply MUST impair a driver's abilities. But what is intuitively obvious is not always the truth, as we all know.

This leads me to point
(2) there are SO MANY things people do in their cars now that is much more dangerous than using a phone, I can't even begin to name them all. I have witnessed, at 60 mph in the last couple of weeks, people
- putting on make-up
- reading the newspaper
- trying to read a map
- eating a fast food combo - stuff dripping everywhere, trying to steer with the elbows while manhandling that Big Mac, that sort of thing
- fiddling with the darn iPod, trying to make sense of the display and figure out why the darn thing just won't play the right track

I can think of others - I mean, we have aftermarket entertainment systems now that will play movies in the car, as well as TV, and internet access. This trend is only going to escalate in the next few years.

Already there is a fuss here in California because people have begun text messaging while driving, and the freshly minted "landmark legislation" failed to outlaw texting! Which makes me think that no matter how much legislation you write, people will always find a way around it.

Which leads me to my point: I don't think it ws right to single out cell phones in this way. What I would like to see instead is a law mandating special penalties for any erratic or dangerous driving that is deemed to be caused by the driver doing ANYTHING while driving (including all the ones I listed above, AND using cell phones, AND anything else that might exist) that distracts him/her from the task at hand. I am talking SERIOUS penalties on the order of drunk driving penalties - perhaps a $500 minimum fine, and two points on the driving record instead of the usual one.

And yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a cell phone owner and user, and I have been known to carry on a conversation or two while driving, although I try to avoid it. I know, boo hiss, right?! I also expect that most enthusiasts here will be of the mindset "get off the phone and DRIVE!" like that bumper sticker the Car Talk guys put out. But I am as much interested in clamping down on all sorts of negligent driving behaviors as I am in not singling out cell phones. The roads are a mess, after all. I am curious to hear others' thoughts on this, if you would care to respond.

2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

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Comments

  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,676
    Well you did say a lot. I agree that anything that distracts should be avoided. Cell Phones seem to be the most visible. I cannot tell you how many times the person in front of me has sat on a green light or stop sign while engrossed in conversation.

    Having just retired from the oil fields in Alaska I know about driving restrictions. There were no fines or points for not wearing your seatbelt, talking on the cell phone even hands free, not wearing safety glasses with side pieces along with all the usual speeding etc etc. It was 3 strikes and you are FIRED. BP ruled the roads like dictators. Your driving privilege on the field was taken away FOREVER. And of course you were fired instantly for any kind of alcohol or drugs in your possession. Not even allowed to pack your own things. Escorted to the plane and put on it. No due process in the oil patch, you are out of there, gone, history.

    The only thing I have against the CA cell phone law is that it should go into affect immediately. No hands free, no text messaging, pull over if you want to answer a call or have to make a call. We got along fine without the darn things for a long time. They are an obvious distraction along with all the others you mentioned. The cops should be equipped with a tracking device and any signal coming from a car and they get a ticket. For other distractions the cops need to become more observant and spend less time in the donut shop.
  • fintailfintail Posts: 32,909
    Sounds like a case of good intentions, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with.

    I can't imagine a good lawyer not being able to easily find a way to get out of these kind of charges. It'd come down to word vs word, and most cops are no more trustworthy than most motorists. As was said, there are also so many other distractions that are just as annoying or dangerous, those should be chased just as hard. I can't imagine a hands free conversation being any worse than smoking or eating or drinking or doing hair/makeup or getting involved with a real passenger, etc.
  • gasman1gasman1 Posts: 321
    I'm guilty as charged. Having used hands-free and hand-hled cell phones. There is a major difference! I agree with the law and expect it to spread.

    I was never distracted by using the hands-free cell. I sure can't say that about the hand-held cell. I haven't read them, but assume the studies found the same results I had.
  • tpetpe Posts: 2,342
    I think cell phones are being singled out because it is a distraction that is easily identifiable. More so than the other examples you gave, which I agree, represent just as much of a distraction. Here's something that I find a little interesting. Cell phones are a fairly recent addition to devices that we feel we must have. They are now somewhat ubiquitous. Why haven't we seen an increase in the accident rate on our highways?

    I personally think that using a cell phone while driving is not a good idea but I also feel we have way too many laws, most of them inneffective. This is just one more. The thought of being in an accident should be enough of a deterrent to force people to pay attention. If not then they run the risk of suffering the consequences. If they injure someone else then the civil courts can handle that. IMO, education is almost always better than laws. An educational campaign along the lines of the anti-smoking campaign would be at least as effective as a law.
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,669
    Good point about the accidents - I never even thought about that. Cell phones went from a spotty take rate to like 90% in the last five to seven years. How come the accident rates haven't doubled and tripled in the same time frame?

    That's what I was talking about, that we have no reliable data to show that cells are the threat to motoring they are being made out to be.

    And I agree this law will be ineffectual. If they manage to extend it to texting, people will just keep their texting below the line of the windows and cops will never even be able to see the phone. How will they ever enforce it?

    I so wish we did better driver's education in this country, and had much more rigorous (and frequent) driver testing for a license. I know this particular point has been much-discussed already at Edmunds.

    OTOH, erratic or dangerous driving goes on all the time, for lots of reasons, including late-night street racing. Let's legislate truly punishing minimum financial and other penalties for that, and include cell phone use if it has contributed on a case by case basis.

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • smittynycsmittynyc Posts: 291
    "That's what I was talking about, that we have no reliable data to show that cells are the threat to motoring they are being made out to be."

    I thought there have been plenty of studies saying that cell phones lead to an increased chance of having an accident:

    http://www.iii.org/media/hottopics/insurance/cellphones/

    "How come the accident rates haven't doubled and tripled in the same time frame?"

    But fatalities and accident rates aren't going down, either. Shouldn't those rates dip appreciably as newer and safer cars, including many with bullet-proof ESC, hit the roads?

    I agree with much of what you're saying -- distracted (no matter the source), reckless, and selfish (tailgaters, red-light runners, super-speeders, people whose actions belie a genuine belief that their time and life are more important than anyone elses) driving are really at the heart of the problem.

    But cell phones are just such low-hanging fruit -- everyone has them and everyone claims to be outraged at what they see cell-phone-using drivers do. It's a slam-dunk for the politicians, and there's no downside that I can see. Maybe the economy will suffer because John Doe doesn't get the call to pick up a bottle of white zinfandel before heading home, but I doubt it.

    Personally, even if a twenty-year exhaustive survey by the most well-respected organizations were to show that cell phones don't have any impact on accident rates, I'd choose not to believe it. Hell, any time I go out for lunch at work I see dozens of examples of people not being able to WALK while using the things.
  • tpetpe Posts: 2,342
    But fatalities and accident rates aren't going down, either. Shouldn't those rates dip appreciably as newer and safer cars, including many with bullet-proof ESC, hit the roads?

    I was referring to the type of accident that is categorized as property damage only. I agree that safer cars and greater use of seatbelts should lower fatality rates. But you would think that cell phone use should definitely drive up the number of fender benders. There is no empirical data to support this. However I do agree with you that common sense would indicate that cell phone use must divert some attention from driving, which should increase risk. I'm speculating here but is it possible that many people realize this when using their cell phones and try to compensate by paying greater attention than normal? Afterall, how many of us can honestly say that we always focus 100% on the task of driving?
  • tpetpe Posts: 2,342
    BTW, I think that car navigation systems will turn out to be as distractive as, if not more than, cell phones.
  • wideglidewideglide Posts: 146
    A little while back I read a news story that quoted a study that said cell phone users cause as many accidents as drunk drivers. If that's true, then the people getting a ticket and small fine for it should consider themselves lucky, as we throw drunk drivers in jail, and fines are in the thousands. Yes, I do believe they cause accidents. As for the other distractions (eating, makeup, etc.), there is a law police can enforce, it's called "Failure To Pay Time And Attention". They probably don't enforce it as much as they should, though.
  • wideglidewideglide Posts: 146
    BTW, I think that car navigation systems will turn out to be as distractive as, if not more than, cell phones.

    Ditto with the I-Drive, Command Center, etc.
  • grbeckgrbeck Posts: 2,361
    smittynyc: But fatalities and accident rates aren't going down, either. Shouldn't those rates dip appreciably as newer and safer cars, including many with bullet-proof ESC, hit the roads?

    According to a recent news article, occupant fatalities in vehicle accidents were down again for 2005. There were, however more deaths among pedestrians and motorcyclists. Pedestrian and motorcyclists deaths are counted as traffic fatalities, and are included in the final, total figure for the year.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,676
    Pedestrian and motorcyclists deaths are counted as traffic fatalities, and are included in the final, total figure for the year.

    Can we assume that some of those deaths were due to in-attention by the driver of a car, engrossed in a cell phone call? Or did the pedestrian walk in front of a car they did not see or hear because they were talking on a cell phone or listening to an iPod?

    It seems we have to many gadgets to take our mind off our driving. Maybe we need to get tougher on those that cause accidents for any reason. Losing your license for causing an accident would be a good start.
  • Why do you need studies and data to tell you that people who drive while talking is dangerous???

    You people DO go outside sometimes, don't you?

    EVERY DAY I see people driving badly because they won't get off the phone. IT DOES NOT MATTER if it's hands free or not. The only difference is hands-free lets you turn the wheel more easily.

    I almost got run over by a woman on the phone recently while crossing an intersection. And that's just ONE example of what I see and deal with everyday.

    We have laws but they are not enforced and BIG DEAL... it's a $100 fine with no points.

    Those of you who think you are not distracted while talking... you are fooling yourself... you ARE distracted. And stop comparing eating to talking... you don't need to think while you eat.
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,669
    That's at least partly your intuition talking there, because you have no experience with those drivers under other conditions. Maybe their driving just sucks. Maybe that woman was in a hurry and routinely disregards pedestrians when she is in a hurry. THAT'S what I originally meant by having very spotty data at best on the impact of cell phones on accidents and human casualties.

    It's human nature to blame the distraction. I could tell you (true story here) that I made an emergency dive into the break-down lane about 10 days back because a guy eating french fries in the lane next to me dropped some and dived to try and catch them before they hit his precious upholstery, resulting in his car swinging wildly and immediately into my lane. I had just glanced over to check my mirror and could see into his car. If I hadn't been looking that way and seen him begin to swing the wheel, I may not have been able to avoid colliding with him.

    Have they passed a shiny new law forbidding the consumption of fast food in the car? Of course not, McDonalds' lobbyist would eat them for lunch if they so much as hinted that they were going to try that...

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • tpetpe Posts: 2,342
    Those of you who think you are not distracted while talking... you are fooling yourself... you ARE distracted

    When you have passengers in the car do you talk to them? Maybe you don't but that would put you in a very, very small minority. I'm not sure why a hands free phone would be any more distracting then talking to a passenger. Potentially less distracting because you wouldn't feel the need to occasionally look at the person you were conversing with.

    I'm not saying that using a cell phone while driving doesn't add to the danger on our roadways. It probably does. I'm stating that our views regarding this distraction should be consistent with other distractions and in line with the degree of danger they cause. When assessing this degree of danger it makes more sense to go by actual data then our gut feelings.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,676
    A couple points. I think that Verizon and Cingular are bigger than McDonald's, negating the lobby aspect. I think a lot of states have already passed laws concerning use of cell phones while driving. It will be easy to prosecute the use as it is not a "he said, she said" situation. The Cell records are available to the courts giving precise time of calls.

    I do agree that eating food is also a distraction. I have not allowed anyone to eat or drink anything except water in any vehicle of mine since high school days. I don't want ketchup on my seats. It boggles the mind watching people choke down a burger while driving. It would be tougher to prove without using video evidence.

    Having the law on the books will make it easier to prosecute or settle lawsuits. If you have an accident while talking on a cell phone it will be evidence of inattention.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,676
    I'm not sure why a hands free phone would be any more distracting then talking to a passenger

    You left out a factor in the talking to a passenger scenario. If you are driving crazy or distracted the passenger will tell you to look out. The person on the other end of a hands free call has no idea your situation at that moment.

    It would be interesting to see statistics on accidents caused by distractions. I imagine it is over half. Removing one big distraction is better than saying it is just another distraction.

    I guess it could be expanded to NO food, makeup, drinks, audio, video, or talking allowed in any moving vehicle. I do see the next step in the Big Brother picture with GPS being installed in most new cars. It can track any and all signals with a record in the little black box. You crash and the NAV was on you lose in court. Very simple with the current technology.
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,669
    So you sort of agree with me then: "I guess it could be expanded to NO food, makeup, drinks, audio, video, or talking allowed in any moving vehicle"

    That's more than half of what I'm saying. We need much more aggressive police enforcement on driver distractions.

    I was being facetious with the lobbyist remark, but I should add that Verizon and Cingular, after battling it for years here in CA, dropped out of the fight this year, leaving only Sprint Nextel fighting it to the bitter end. I have no idea why. When Cingular and Verizon were also in the fight, the legislature failed like three separate times to pass cell phone legislation for motorists.

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • jimlockeyjimlockey Posts: 265
    Some people can do this and some people can't so it is best that all should not talk while driving.
  • tpetpe Posts: 2,342
    Some people can do this and some people can't so it is best that all should not talk while driving.

    So you advocate a lowest common denominator approach to legislation? By that I mean that our laws should be geared towards those that posess the least amount of judgement, skill, self discipline, intelligence, etc.. You're not alone. That appears to be the direction our society is heading in.
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