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Blog: Total Cell Phone Ban's for Idiot Drivers

We know cell phones can cause accidents, but a complete ban or one that prohibits hand-held devices are not the best fixes for the problem.

Lawmakers in Springfield are considering a ban on hand-held cell phones for all drivers in Illinois. The city of Springfield is also considering banning all cell phone use while driving, including hands-free.

At first blush, this may seem like a good idea. We have all seen the tragic stories of lives cut short because someone is busily chatting and texting away on their phone while driving. If hand-held usage is banned statewide, there is an added chance of enforcing the existing no-texting laws (or Internet surfing, or emailing) since the phone cannot be in your hands at all.

Back in basic driver's ed, we were all taught to keep both hands on the wheel in the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock positions. But, truth be told, who actually keeps both hands on the wheel at all times? In those first warm days of spring, doesn’t everybody roll down their window and rest their elbow on the door as they sit back and enjoy the breeze?

How about those with manual transmission? Particularly in traffic, your right hand is nearly constantly on the gear shift knob as you go from second to third, then from second to first, etc. And how do you take a sip of the beverage sitting in the cupholder without taking a hand off the wheel -- and your eyes off the road -- for a moment?

The answer, of course, is responsible drivers do these things all the time with no negative impact on their driving awareness.

The problem with the total cell phone ban being considered in Springfield, and already enacted elsewhere, is it assumes that merely having a conversation is the problem.

If that were true, then chatting with a passenger would be equally dangerous. Are we going to pass a law that prohibits conversation with a passenger while behind the wheel? What about listening to talk radio shows? Would that also fall under the no-conversation ban? Is singing along with the radio next?

The fact that there is a problem is undisputed. People who are distracted from the essential task of driving cause or are involved in accidents. What is not a fact is that merely talking on a cell phone is causing more accidents.

A few studies done in other countries, some going back to 1997, do show a correlation between cell phone use and accidents. The problem with using this data is much of it was collected at a time when cell phones were still relatively new and hands-free technology was still a pipe dream. These older studies do not take into account the simple fact that humans, at least most humans, are quite adept at mastering and incorporating new technology.

These are the studies that proponents of the hand-held and total cell phone bans are using as the basis for their arguments. That, and what co-sponsor state Rep. John D’Amico (D-Chicago) says is a simple matter of making drivers more responsible behind the wheel.

The first flaw with D'Amico's proposal is that driving in a highly congested urban area and driving down an empty country road are two completely different experiences.

As someone who learned to drive in Chicago and still does so on a regular basis, you’d have to be a special kind of idiot to think you can pay sufficient attention to the traffic, pedestrians and taxis who consider driving a contact sport and still be able to talk on the cell phone. Or to have anything other than a halting conversation with a passenger.  

In other words, just because it makes sense for Chicago does not mean it makes sense for the rest of the state.

The second and more telling flaw is the simple lack of empirical evidence. Common sense tells us that with cell phone use, there will be more traffic accidents. The facts, however, simply do not bear this out.

Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, said, "The expectation would be that as cell phone use has skyrocketed, we would see a correlation in the number of accidents, but that hasn't happened."

Additionally, a study released this year by the University of Chicago tracked the number of accidents after 9 p.m., when there is an upsurge in cell phone use due to many carriers lowering their rates for "nights and weekend" packages. This study found a 7 percent increase in call volume, yet no discernible increase in accidents.

California, arguably the mecca for the car culture in this country, also released a study this month. In 2008, a statewide ban on all hand-held devices was enacted. In the past two-and-a-half years, all traffic fatalities dropped by 22 percent and fatalities caused by drivers on cell phones dropped by 50 percent.

I am an absolute supporter of banning texting, reading email and surfing on the Internet while driving. These are activities that, even if they could be completed without knee driving, require taking your eyes off the road for more than a split-second.

I also agree that hands-free devices are significantly safer than hand-held devices for the simple fact that holding a phone requires one-handed driving when we should be using two.

However, to ban all cell phone use is both draconian and pointless. Bad drivers -- those who think their time behind the wheel is an opportunity to engage in a variety of activities that have nothing to do with the road in front of them or the vehicles around them -- will be bad drivers whether there is a legal ban on cell phone use or not.

A much better and more effective resolution would be to increase the fines
dramatically for drivers who cause an accident while they are on the phone -- regardless of whether it's a hand-held device or hands-free -- and enforce a statewide ban on all cell phone use for drivers under the age of 18.

But please stop trying to tell the rest of us good, responsible drivers that we are incapable of having a conversation while driving just because some people out there are incapable of walking and chewing gum.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Denise Williams April 02, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Since police scanners have become so widely available to the general public, most police department's policy require officers to discuss sensitive or personally identifiable information with their superiors on a department issued cell phone. I am of the belief that someone trained to handle a gun is also capable of talking on a cell phone and driving.
Jachooz April 02, 2012 at 04:11 PM
I disagree with the writer. Talking to the people in your car while driving is VERY different from trying to read or text from a tiny cell phone. Even with hands free phones you must still choose who you are going to call and set up the phone to make that call all of which take the driver's attention away from the road.
Jerry April 02, 2012 at 08:38 PM
I also think that the idea that police officers cannot talk on the cell phone and drive is ridiculous. Police officers are kind of trained to multi-task. This is part of their jobs. To say they shouldn't be allowed to do this is equivalent to saying ambulance drivers shouldn't be able to speed and go through red lights. But then someone with a chip on their shoulder about the police will invent ways to find fault, so what can you do. As for teen drivers, I bought my son a stereo for his car that has blue tooth compatiblity so it allows him to speak hands free through the radio without fumbling for an earbud or driving with the handset up to his ear. Yes, I have told him over and over that it's dangerous to talk on the phone and drive but I am also a realist. He's likely to do it at least occasionally so I chose the best way to make it as safe as possible.
Jerry April 02, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Jachooz, I think you need to read, or try to understand, the point Denise was making a little better. She is not condoning texting or internet usage while driving. To quote, "I am an absolute supporter of banning texting, reading email and surfing on the Internet while driving." Where she is making the distinction is in the idea of completely banning cell phone usage (verbal conversations, even hands free) while driving is equivalent to banning conversation with a passenger or tuning into and listening to talk radio. These are all things that can distract the driver, but won't distract EVERY driver. I support distracted driving ordinances that leave it to the discretion of the police officer witnessing the driving patterns of the cell phone user. Some people can, and some people can't, drive safely while talking on the phone.
Meadow April 02, 2012 at 10:13 PM
EYES ON PLFD. You have no clue what you are talking about. Why would you attack Law Enforcement Officers for talking on their cell phones. What makes that profession different from any other. I ve actually read that ordianace and it is written for people that cause crashes due to distracted devices in their vehicles (IPOD< PHONE< DVD PLAYERS, Etc. Its not enforced for avreage Joe driving down the street talking on their cell phone. You should complete a Freedom of Informaion and see exactly what Law Enformcement Officers are writing that citation in ALL of the surrounding Villages/Cities before you blanket the Plainfeld Police for doing such. Get your facts straight before starting a blog about a Statewide Ban, that turned into bashing the PPD for using cell phones. Do you really expect Police Officers not to use their cell phones in their squad cars?? Have you ever listened to police radio traffic and expect Officers to freely talk on the radio? IT DOESNT HAPPEN......They use other ways to commnicate, Cell Phone, In Car Computers , Nextel.
BitterBluePoison April 03, 2012 at 01:13 PM
The law should apply to all equally..police are no exception. It is my opinion that most people feel the same as Denise. I myself feel pretty responsible enough to handle a phone conversation as well as shifting gears or changing the radio channel just as all those other responsible people.. Denise stated "The answer, of course, is responsible drivers do these things all the time with no negative impact on their driving awareness."... well sure they do...until they slam into someone then they become an idiot with a cell phone. Your article is lacking reality...pop your delusional bubble and admit that no one should operate a vehicle while using a cell phone.

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