Hand-held cell phones: driving to distraction by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below was cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

The following people are just some of the reasons that safe driving advocates like State Senator Brian Joyce must be so frustrated. The owner of a blue Toyota, MA license 693HG8, on June 25 swinging onto Morrissey Bouldvard, swerving in front of us because her cell phone use prevented her even being aware that she was cutting us off.

Or, the driver of a dark Audi, MA license 55X600, at 6 p.m. on June 29, totally ignoring a yield sign on I-95 so totally absorbed was he in his cell phone conversation.

Or, the owner of a silver car (sorry, I didn’t get the make) MA license 718W81 at exit 4 to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on July 2nd, slithering across three lanes, cutting in front of us, without a signal because, of course, he had one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding the cell phone to his ear. (Please be assured that I was not driving while making these observations and writing down license numbers.)

These folks obviously don’t know each other, but they certainly have a lot in common. They are representative of the driving danger that adult cell phone users present and who get off scot-free in the Safe Driving Law recently passed by the Massachusetts legislature, a watered down version of what Brian Joyce has been pushing for years.

Joyce, of course, has been particularly focused on elderly drivers and the desirability of having them tested routinely for competency. What emerged was a meek requirement that those 75 years or older have a vision test every five years and go the Registry to apply for their renewals. I’m not there in age (though every year I get closer), and it would also have been fine to set the age limit at 80, but frankly I’ve seen and read enough about crashes caused by older drivers to think some additional testing would be supportable. There’s broad support of limits on teenagers due to their inexperience. Our oldest drivers have plenty of experience, but it’s counter-intuitive to think that, as a group, we/they aren’t subject to a higher rate of physical and cognitive deficits.

Yes, it’s good that lawmakers banned texting while driving (a no-brainer) and cell phone use by teens. But lawmakers didn’t go far enough. Tom Vanderbilt, in his comprehensive book “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says about Us), notes that nearly 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of the near crashes involved drivers who were not paying attention to traffic for up to three seconds before the event. That’s why the legislature still needs to deal with hand-held cell phone use by adult drivers.

This map shows states that ban driving while using a hand-held cell phone. One can only hope that the next legislative session will produce a requirement that all drivers use a hands-free device.

Vanderbilt writes that “cell phones in cars have contributed to the seeming death of signaling for turns.” (See my third example.) He also points out that “keeping one’s eyes on the road is not necessarily the same thing as keeping one’s mind on the road.” Cell phones take up brain capacity to process other unexpected events, especially hazards coming from our sides, those in our peripheral vision.

Yes, simply talking is still a distraction, but so are putting on lipstick, quieting down the kids in the back seat, listening to talk radio, or eating a sandwich. However, it’s unrealistic to think of eliminating these. Add hand-held cell phone distraction to the mix, stir in a measure of travel frustration and inter-driver competition, and you have a potentially lethal brew. Hand-held cell phones are something that can be controlled, and, next session, that’s exactly what the legislature should do.

– Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below

4 Responses to Hand-held cell phones: driving to distraction by Marjorie Arons-Barron

  1. Publius says:

    “nearly 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of the near crashes involved drivers who were not paying attention to traffic for up to three seconds before the event. ”

    Please note that it did not say cell phone use. This coould be changing radio station, chnaging the CD, adjusting the climate controls, talking to passengers or a myriad of other distractions. How about a compromise, when you get rid of the cd player and radio I will agree to the banning of cellphones.

  2. The Mark says:

    How about people invest $15-$50 in a bluetooth and use it. Better yet how about the clowns up on Broken Hill pass an Elderly driving bill with some teeth. You have a better shot of the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup then getting me to stop using my cell phone in my car.

  3. Joan H says:

    Excuse me for being an older driver. I have never had an accident. But I have been cut off 3 times in the last 2 weeks by 3 different young fools ( all female) on a cell phone at the Hannaford’s on Drum Hill. The Boston Globe published a report from the RMV a few weeks ago that showed far more accidents are caused by the 18- 15 yr-old group than by the 65 plus . They need to go after all unsafe drivers not just us “old” folks.

  4. Andrew says:

    It always amazes me how much our society values convenience over safety. During the oil embargo of ’73, speed limits on highways were reduced by 10mph, leading to a drastic decrease in accidents and deaths. As soon as we had to stop worrying about fuel efficiency we went right back to killing each other. Or take high-school start times. Teenagers’ bodies are on a different schedule than all other ages (children and adults have the same); they go to sleep later at night and wake up later. School districts that make their high school start-time later see a drastic decrease in the number of teenagers in accidents, but this cuts into time for after school sports. So most districts don’t implement it.

    I can’t believe how long it took to impose a ban on texting. There should be a ban on all cell phone use period, even the bluetooth handless sets. I forget the exact numbers, but a conversation takes up more than half of the amount of information your brain can consciously process every second. This is why you can’t talk to two people at once.

    It’s a matter of convenience versus safety. Being distracted increases your risk of causing and accident, or failing to avoid one. As I have no interest in participating in an accident, I never use my phone while driving. If it’s important, I pull over.

    But here is my proposal. Instead of punishing young drivers with high insurance costs regardless of how responsibly they drive, let’s set up a system with two types of plans. Under one plan, you pay low premiums, but the insurance company will not pay for damages if you are in an accident while on your phone. With the second plan, you would pay higher premiums, but the insurance company would pay for accidents you were in while on your phone. I think it’s only fair; why should those of us who don’t endanger ourselves and other drivers be expected to pay for those who do?