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Possible cell-phone ban a drop in the bucket

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 19, 2009 7:44 AM

It’s a Thursday evening. You have just gotten off work, and you are making your way home on Interstate 80. You’re driving the speed limit, jamming to the latest Kanye West tune and minding your own business, when from out of nowhere, an SUV pulls out in front of you. You slam on your brakes, and the Honda behind you honks loudly, as if the other driver’s poor driving skills are your fault. After yelling a slew of obscenities (windows closed, of course), you switch lanes to discover the identity of this rude traffic violator. But to your dismay, the driver doesn’t even notice your icy stare because — cell phone pressed to his ear — he is having what looks to be the funniest conversation of his life.

Nearly every driver has had an experience similar to this one. Despite many motorists being aware of the danger of using their cell phones while driving, they just can’t hang up. House File 9 seeks to solve this problem in Iowa by banning cell-phone use while driving. But banning cell-phone use behind the wheel likely won’t make our roads any safer. Drivers engage in plenty of dangerous activities behind the wheel; cell-phone use is just the tip of the iceberg.

Studies have confirmed that traffic accidents increase when drivers are on the phone. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that all forms of cell-phone use decrease a driver’s responsiveness in highway-traffic situations and increase the amount of time it takes a driver to respond to these situations. Drivers who are engaged in phone conversations are much less likely to notice a stopped vehicle in front of them or to be able to properly respond to the recklessness of other drivers.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, in April of 2006, the 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study, conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, found that nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds of the event. However, cell-phone use was considered far less likely to be the cause of a crash or near-miss than other driver distractions. The safety agency found that reaching for a moving object such as a falling cup while driving increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by nine times, while talking or listening on a hand-held cell phone only increased the risk by 1.3 times.

Aside from talking on cell phones, drivers have plenty of other ways to become distracted behind the wheel. According to Times Online, a study conducted by Brunel University found that drivers who eat and drink while driving were two times as likely to get in an accident. Adjusting the radio is also a major reason many drivers find themselves involved in auto accidents. And although they can be extremely useful, GPS systems can be just as distracting as cell phones.

Because there are so many other ways drivers can become distracted while on the road, House File 9 probably will not serve its intended purpose. Despite other states’ having banned cell phones at the wheel, Iowa should not follow this path. In order to free drivers from all distractions, legislators would be forced to adopt cheeseburger bans, and driving while eating would have to become illegal. Because the radio can also be considered to be a distraction, would drivers be forced to drive in silence? Even though the idea behind House File 9 is a good one, there are other angles regarding driver distraction that must also be taken into consideration.


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