You’re driving down the highway and it starts to rain. You slow down, turn on the wipers and continue to drive carefully. All of a sudden, another car loses its grip on the road, hydroplanes across the median and hits you on the driver’s side. Your airbags go off and in the midst of the rain and confusion you can’t tell what has happened, but you know you’re OK. The car that hit you? That driver doesn’t appear to be moving. You reach for your cell phone to call 911 when you realize. you don’t have your cell phone.
This situation could become closer to reality if some lawmakers have it their way.
Twenty-four states have banned or partially banned handheld cell phone usage in cars, and the likelihood of such paranoid legislation seems to be growing.
Let’s get straight to the truth: A lot of us talk and drive. And I’ll concede that chatting on a cell phone can be distracting. But so can a myriad of other activities, such as driving while eating, applying make-up, switching music and talking to another person in the vehicle – activities that we’ve all done. And as a former nanny, I can attest that driving with children can be especially distracting. Are states and municipalities going to outlaw them, too?
Researchers from the University of North Carolina found that cell phone use was responsible for only 1.5 percent of distracted driving accidents as of 2001, and a Harvard study found that cell phone-related accidents were just 6 percent of all accidents as of 2002.
Logically, if state and local governments were to ban cell phones because they are distractions, they would have to ban all such distracting activities – an impossible, not to mention pointless, task. If lawmakers were to enact a cell phone ban in Colorado, the enforcement of such a policy would consume valuable police time with overabundant arrests.
Some might say that cell phones should be allowable during a vehicular emergency, but what constitutes an emergency? Who defines what an emergency can be? Car-related emergencies run the gamut from accidents to talking to someone to stay awake while driving at night. A cell phone ban is uniform and thus unfair, because it treats all drivers and all situations the same when they clearly are not.
Finally, I believe the chilling effect of such legislation could lead to such a fear of driving with cell phones and ultimately eliminate their availability in a true emergency, whatever one of those might be.
It’s not enough to ban cell phones in cars simply because they present a risk – just because something is risky does not mean it should be illegal. Lawmakers need to weigh the cost of such legislation against other factors and think about how such a law will be enforced, how many people actually use a cell phone while driving, and evaluate the presence of actual risk, not just a preponderance of evidence.
Hilary Davis is a senior technical journalism major. Her column appears every Friday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.