Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Why All the Animosity Towards Cell Phones?
On July 2, 2010 Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into law a bill banning texting while driving. The bill in its original House of Representatives version also banned hand-held cell phones in the car while driving, in addition to the ban on texting. However, this was narrowly defeated by the Massachusetts Senate in an 18-16 vote. Regardless, the new law which went into effect on September 30th, marks Massachusetts’ attempt to keep up with the growing trend of states banning cell phones in cars.
As it currently stands, eight states; California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington along with Washington D.C. and the Virgin Islands ; prohibit all drivers from using hand held cell phones while driving. While this is certainly not a majority, it appears to be a trend. Currently, twenty-eight states and Washington D.C. ban novice drivers from using cell phones while driving; eighteen states and Washington D.C. ban bus drivers from using cell phones while driving and passengers are present; and thirty states, Washington D.C., and Guam have banned texting while driving. Of these thirty states, eleven of the laws were enacted in 2010, including Massachusetts’ new law. Furthermore, some local governments have taken it upon themselves and passed their own distracted driver laws. For a complete chart of laws limiting cell phone use while driving, click here.
The inconsistency between states in cell phone laws can make driving cross country a nightmare. In some states, a police officer can pull a driver over for using your cell phone; in others the officer must pull the driver over for a separate traffic violation in order to cite them for using their cell phone; while still in other states a driver has no limitations on cell phone use. The easy remedy is to play it safe and not use one’s cell phone while driving cross country. However, it seems that these inconsistencies could be taken care of through comprehensive federal legislation. With all the new state legislation on cell phone use further complicating a driver’s ability to know when, where, and how it is permissible to use their cell phone, the time seems primed for the Federal Government to step in and create a national standard.
This urge to pass cell phone legislation is no doubt coming from the correlation between cell phone use, the distractions it causes, and the accidents that result. However, the legislatures are missing the point a bit. While the texting bans are certainly necessary seeing that a person must take their eyes off the road completely in order to read/send texts, why is there so much animosity towards handheld cell phones? Most experienced drivers can steer a car as well with one hand as with two, unless of course they are driving a standard. The only real difference between handheld cell phones and hands free technology, such as Bluetooth, is the use of one hand. The distraction part of using a cell phone, which is the issue most lawmakers point to when passing these bills, is the conversation itself, not the intermediary device. If lawmakers are truly worried about distracted drivers, then all distracting activities should be banned along with cell phone use. Activities such as eating, drinking, reading, putting on makeup, and using a hair straightener while driving are as distracting, if not more so, than using a cell phone. Furthermore, some of these distracting activities are marketed specifically for being used in the car, yet they remain unregulated. The current trend of forcing drivers to use hands free technology for cell phone calls while driving is simply giving drivers an extra hand to grab that drink from McDonald’s they just picked up, not truly making our roads and highways any safer.
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