/ January 9, 2009

Stopping the Dial and Drive Phenomena

The debate over cell phone use in cars continues as the more studies that appear cloud the real point that legislators were attempting to make. Some researchers insist that in-car distractions are the overwhelming cause of accidents, with cell phones being the most prevalent issue, while others declare there is no concrete evidence to this statement. Even with legislation in place in many states already it is difficult to determine whether it is making a difference. Hardly any drivers in the several states with hands-free driving laws have even been stopped for the offense due to the complicated nature of catching someone in the act. Much like seat belt laws, most hands-free laws are secondary offenses meaning drivers can only be cited for it after they have already been stopped for another violation. Even in states where drivers can be pulled over at the sight of a hand held mobile device, it becomes difficult to prove that they were in fact using the device for purposes that are restricted by law.
A few thousand deaths have been attributed to cell phone use while driving and even this number might be artificially low since usage would usually have to be acknowledged by the driver; someone who may not be willing to tell the truth or may not even be alive to recount the accident. Even so, “maybe” is a pretty weak argument when trying to enforce a law. Opponents of the laws on the other hand fail to see the severity of using a hand held mobile device while driving when drivers are continually seen partaking in other similarly distracting activities including eating, applying makeup or even reading the newspaper. With cell phones accounting for only a fraction of the car accidents occurring annually in the United States, it makes it difficult to gather support for strict regulations. In addition, although everyone has complained about a poor driver on their cell phone at one time or another, only a small percentage can truly say they are not guilty of this very same action.
Whether you are a supporter of hands-free laws or not, the fact is that they are not working. States with active laws have seen the same reaction from their citizens; the initial buzz about fines and citations leads to complaints but also cutbacks in usage only to be followed by a resurgence once attention has faded. If states are really trying to make a commitment to cutting back cell phone usage they had better come up with some better procedures and a stronger campaign.

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