Is It Time to Totally Ban Cellphones from Cars?

Is it time to totally ban cellphones from cars? This issue has been raised on a federal level, the dangers of any kind of cell use are being documented and it sounds as if this is beginning of a new movement that could eventually prevail:

The federal agency charged with overseeing transportation safety recommended Tuesday that US states should forbid the use of all cellphones and other portable electronic devices by drivers.

The five-member, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) agreed unanimously to the recommendation as the number of accidents attributed to cellphone use rises. Perhaps the most dramatic was a fatal highway pileup in Missouri in 2010, in which a 19-year-old driver sent or received 11 texts in the 11 minutes before the crash.

“Driving was not his only priority,” said NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman. “No call, no text, no update is worth a human life.”

The restrictions would exceed any existing state laws that limit drivers’ cellphone use – for texting, web-surfing, or talking – because they would apply to both hands-free and handheld devices. The board has no power to impose restrictions, however, meaning that any new rules would have to come from states, Congress, or federal regulators. But the NTSB is seen as being very influential.

“This is an expert agency which is considered important and is trying to make transportation safer, so even though it can only recommend, it will be taken very seriously,” says Carl Tobias, professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. “Following through devolves back on the states and what their legislatures are willing to do.”

“It’s amazing to me that despite the growing evidence to the contrary, people continue to think this is not dangerous,” Professor Tobias says.

So far nine states ban cell phone use while driving. As the tragic evidence grows, this issue could pick up steam.

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  • The_Ohioan

    Perhaps a device could be required on all cars that inhibits cell phones when the tires are rotating. This would cover most problems except for the person that is trying to outrun an attacker and reach the police at the same time. And I suppose 911 could be excepted for that problem.

    Whether state or federal law, the statistics are beginning to show the necessity for some type of control.

  • Allen

    Oh yes please!

    I cannot count with a supercomputer the number of times I have nearly died as a result of cell phone drivers!

    Use a rattan cane on them! We should create traffic police canning crews to deal with this menace on the spot, IMO! Drag them from their cars and stretch them across their hood and whack them many times with a rattan cane for cell phone driving!

    Yes! Yes! Outlaw Cell Phone Driving Please Please Please!

  • roro80

    No. No they should not. Perhaps those who cannot manage the task should just stop doing it. If you can’t drive and talk at the same time, please don’t do so. Leave the rest of us alone, please.

  • http://kikoshouse.blogspot.com SHAUN MULLEN, TMV Columnist

    roro80 has the right approach, to which I would add: If you can’t drive and talk, don’t if you don’t have the option of hands-free operation.

    I don’t use a cellphone in our old car because there is no such option, while our newer car has an iPhone interface on the nav system screen, enabling us to get and receive hands-free calls.

  • STinMN

    Shaun, roro80, I know my voice won’t make a damn bit of difference, but no driver should be using a cellphone, handheld or hands-free or texting. Nor should they be using a two-way radio, GPS, CD player, or anything else that diverts their attention from the road.

    I hold a commercial driver’s license. As part of the CDL training you get to do things like talk on the cell phone while navigating a closed road course in a 48,000 vehicle. I’ve yet to see (or hear) of anyone successfully doing it, without killing a cone. You would be surprised the extent most professional drivers go to to make sure they don’t have to fiddle with their radio or stereo system while driving.

    I’ve been involved with motorsports at both amateur and professional levels. Two-way communication with the driver is pretty much standard now, yet in practice sessions where the driver is alone on the track we would consistently see slower lap times on the laps we talked to the driver. In races you can see the drivers that are constantly talking to their crew – they don’t see things developing on the track.

    I’ve than several high performance driving classes (I’m due for another one, I like to take them every 5-7 years to keep from forming the bad habits you see everyday on the road.) At the last one I attended they had you call one of the instructors on a hands-free phone and answer some simple questions like “what color is your car” or “What day is today” while driving the course at around highway speeds. 100% of the drivers go slower in this exercise, and close to half the drivers will hit cones. By the way, most of the cones get hit on straightaways, not in turns in this exercise.

    Studies show that about 2.5% of the population can drive and perform another task like talking on a cell phone without impacting either. I know I’m not part of this 2.5%, and I’d guess you probably aren’t either. I’d suggest going to a driving school and try running the exercise while talking on a cell phone. You WILL be surprised. Just so you aren’t like the Porsche driver at the last event I was at. He was firmly convinced that the instructors doctored his times, and knocked over the cones on his run. He was so convinced that he was could do both well that on his way home he was complaining to a friend on what the instructors did to him and drove his Porsche into bridge abutment, killing himself while talking on his cellphone.

  • JSpencer

    Our society managed to get along just fine for nearly a century without having phones in cars. Also research has shown that the hands free option isn’t any sort of cure-all. Personally I’d rather people pay closer attention to their driving.

  • PJBFan

    I am with JSpencer, but, on a rare occasion, I am in wholehearted agreement with Allen. Caning is appropriate for people who drive and talk on a cell phone.

  • http://wideeyedandreal.blogspot.com ProfElwood

    We might as well ban drive-through restaurants while we’re at it. Eating while driving is a lot more dangerous than talking while driving.

  • Rcoutme

    Well, we could always try R. A. Heinlein’s idea: any damage you cause to other motorists will be caused to you, and you will be held financially responsible for your actions, even beyond bankruptcy. He had this in one of the many alternate worlds he created. All traffic signs were suggestions. One of his characters witnessed a correcting. The man’s leg was run over and the paramedics waited 17 minutes to treat him (since his victim had to wait that long). The character was told by the police, “Most people tend to be very cautious.”

    Having seen all the studies on driving while eating, drinking (non-alcoholic beverages), texting, talking on cell phones, etc; I find it little wonder that we blow away 50k people every year on our streets and highways. I just wonder why deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq have not been shown in comparison to such things (along with murder rates and such). Perspective might be the only way to wake people up to the realities of some stuff going on constantly.

  • Allen

    Prof-

    What a GOOD idea!

  • http://www.americaincontext.com Barky

    Ugh, I came too late to the topic, but I say NO!

    I say no because they can be used safely, even in a car, even while driving. It’s called a headset. T

    The government should not ban something unless it cannot be used responsibly. Punishment for irresponsible use, certainly. But an outright ban? Tremendous overreach.

    Note I try to be consistent with this, hence my opinion on decriminalizing marijuana.

  • STinMN

    Barky, all available research I’ve seen clearly shows that the phone is the problem. It doesn’t matter if you hold it, use a hands-free device, or a headset, a driver talking on the phone is distracted to about the same level as a driver with a 0.06% blood alcohol level. The University of Utah Applied Cognition Lab (http://www.psych.utah.edu/lab/appliedcognition/) has some very good (if technical) papers that bear this out.

    If banning drivers from using cell phones is tremendous overreach, then we need to re-examine the 0.08% blood alcohol limit for overreach as well.

  • Billman

    With all due respect to STinMN, I say no. At least as far as hands-free goes.

    Please tell me what is the difference between a hands-free call and having a conversation with your passenger(s)?

    The other issue I have is the term “portable electronics”… Is the car radio considered portable? Would listening to it be a violation? What about singing along? What about the iPod that’s plugged into it? What about CB’s and their use?

  • STinMN

    Billman:

    As far as hands free, from Strayer, D. L. & Drews, F. A. (2007). Multi-tasking in the automobile http://www.psych.utah.edu/lab/appliedcognition/publications/multitasking.pdf:

    “Moreover, several lines of evidence suggest that the crash risk is the same for hand-held and hands-free cell phones. For example, simulator-based studies reviewed above found that hands-free cell phones had the same impairment profile as that of hand-held devices. In addition, a recent analysis from the Highway Loss Data Institute compared US States that imposed a ban on driving while using a hand-held cell phone with comparable States that did not institute a ban and found no safety advantage for prohibiting hand-held cell phones.”

    For the differences between calls and in car conversations, the abstract from Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 2008, Vol. 14, No. 4, 000–000, Passenger and Cell Phone Conversations in Simulated Driving http://www.psych.utah.edu/lab/appliedcognition/publications/passenger.pdf:

    “This study examines how conversing with passengers in a vehicle differs from conversing on a cell phone while driving. We compared how well drivers were able to deal with the demands of driving when conversing on a cell phone, conversing with a passenger, and when driving without any distraction. In the conversation conditions, participants were instructed to converse with a friend about past experiences in which their life was threatened. The results show that the number of driving errors was highest in the cell phone condition; in passenger conversations more references were made to traffic, and the production rate of the driver and the complexity of speech of both interlocutors dropped in response to an increase in the demand of the traffic. The results indicate that passenger conversations differ from cell phone conversations because the surrounding traffic not only becomes a topic of the conversation, helping driver and passenger to share situation awareness, but the driving condition also has a direct influence on the complexity of the conversation, thereby mitigating the potential negative effects of a conversation on driving.”

    Allowing hands-free cell phones is like allowing alcohol if it is sipped thorough a straw.