By Brandon Miniman | September 27, 2010 2:26 PM
It turns out that the Governors Highway Safety Association is considering the endorsement of a ban on all cell phone use while driving at its annual meeting this month. Their endorsement doesn’t mean that a national law will be passed, but it brings us one big step closer. Currently, eight states in the US have banned the usage of cell phones while driving unless you’re using a hands-free Bluetooth system. The facts are clear: using a cell phone while driving, especially if you’re dangerously texting, significantly increases the risk of causing an accident.
Evan and I have strong contrary opinions about the issue, and we wanted to provide both sides to you here. We’re curious to hear your thoughts on the matter: should it be illegal to use a cellphone while driving, even with a hands-free system? Take our poll, and drop us a comment.
Update: Results of the meeting are in, and the Governors Highway Safety Association WILL NOT endorse a national ban on using a cell phone while driving, citing lack of conclusive evidence that doing so would decrease car accidents. They will vote on the issue again next year after more data has been gathered.
Evan (pro ban):
As much as I enjoy talking on my phone in the car — and I do so without a headset all the time, even though that is technically illegal where I live — I totally agree that banning in-car phone use completely is the only way to significantly decrease distraction-related accidents. That is because talking on a phone is a uniquely distracting activity, in that conversations can both last a long time and often require the participant’s full attention. And when this chatter happens to be driving, full attention on talking means almost zero attention paid to controlling that speeding hunk of metal being piloted towards pedestrians and other motorists.
Now there are many advocates of hands-free laws who claim that using headsets or in-car speakerphones alleviates the dangers associated with holding a phone up to your face (just try maneuvering a Droid X into the right position while doing 80). But what those advocates don’t understand is that unlike having a conversation with one of your passengers, people on the other end of the line can’t pause the conversation during treacherous conditions, nor can they point out possible dangers that the distracted driver may miss.
I’ve already driven several hour-long trips and not remembered a minute of the actual ride, all because I was wrapped up in a long, distracting conversation. I’d get in the car, dial a number, and the next thing I’d know I’d have arrived at my destination. That’s pretty scary when you think about it: how many hazards did I avoid that I didn’t even remember, trusting my safety to driving instincts that may not be as honed as I’d like to believe.
The bottom line is that any type of phone conversation requires a certain amount of concentration, meaning that even the best multitaskers get somewhat distracted while drive-talking. Hands-free laws don’t remove these distractions, they simply eliminate the physical aspect of holding the phone, which in and of itself is not all that distracting (especially for drivers of automatic cars). No, the real danger is the attention required by cellphone conversations — attention that tends to be more focused than when talking to in-car passengers — and the most effective way to enforce attention behind the wheel is to completely remove one of the biggest distractions.
Me (against ban):
I’m totally in favor of banning cell phone usage while driving except when using a hands-free system. There is absolutely no difference between having an engaging conversation with a passenger, and having an engaging conversation with a caller, especially when you’re using a Bluetooth headset or other form of hands-free. To Evan’s point about callers being unable to pause the conversation during treacherous conditions or being able to point out potential dangers to the driver, I concede that this may account for an insignificant percentage of accidents caused by cell phone usage, but not enough to necessitate an across-the-board ban.
For many, talking on the phone while driving is a tremendous productivity booster. With traffic only getting worse in many parts of the country, it’s great to be able to check in with the office of catch up with a friend or co-worker while sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Banning all cell phone use while driving could materially impact the productivity of millions of people.
Also, think about the unintended repercussions of banning cell phone usage while driving. First, people that legitimately need to make a call while driving may be forced to pull over on the highway. This may create a dangerous situation by affecting the flow of traffic as people try to pull onto the highway from the shoulder. Also, many people use cell phones in emergency situations. Imagine a family member calling you because they urgently need to speak. Because you’re driving, you’d be unable to speak to them for at least few minutes.
In the end, cell phone use while driving (as long as it’s hands free) does more good than harm, and we should keep that in mind.