Issue Report: Banning cell phones in cars

Should all cell phone use in cars be banned?

In little more than a decade, mobile phones have become widespread in developed countries, changing the way people communicate and interact. Concerns over their use have tended to centre upon possible radiation’s impact upon the brain, but more recently mobile phones have been blamed for causing a considerable number of road accidents. As a result, a number of countries are seriously considering a ban on using a mobile phone while driving, following the lead of Eire and the State of New York in the USA. In the UK the government issued a consultation paper in August 2002, indicating that legislation is likely in the next couple of years. The sub-debates involved include whether the use of a cell phone while driving presents a serious public hazard, the degree of distraction, whether practice helps, the level of importance/efficiency in allowing cell-phone use in cars, do hands-free heads-sets help solve the problem, are careless driving laws an adequate substitute, is a cell-phone ban enforceable, and what additional economic factors play into this debate? The pro and con arguments are quotes are framed below.

Public safety: Is the use of cell-phones while driving a public hazard?

Cell phone use in cars impairs driving, causes accidents

Physically holding a handset removes one hand from the controls, making accidents more likely, while dialling is even worse, as it also requires the user to divert their attention away from the road. Research shows that drivers speaking on a mobile phone have much slower reactions in braking tests than non-users, and are worse even than if they have been drinking.Such cell phone use has led, according to some estimates, to the death of roughly 2,600 drivers annually.

Using a cell phone in a car is like drunk driving

"Editorial: Cellphone ban long overdue". The Dominion Post. June 12th, 2008

In Britain, a study a few years ago, using a driving simulator, found that motorists using hand-held phones took 30 per cent longer to react to hazards than motorists driving under the influence of alcohol and 50 per cent longer than drivers not under the influence.

Fumbling for ringing phone while driving is dangerous

"Editorial: Cellphone ban long overdue". The Dominion Post. June 12th, 2008

“even more dangerous than talking on the phone while driving is fumbling in a pocket or handbag for a ringing phone while travelling at 100kmh on the motorway.”

Society can't "trust judgement" of drivers with cell phones

"Editorial: Cellphone ban long overdue". The Dominion Post. June 12th, 2008

“Driving while using cellphones reduces safety margins. Those who assert they know the difference between safe and unsafe use of phones should ask themselves if they are equally confident that the testosterone-loaded 18-year-old rushing from football practice to meet his girlfriend will show the same good judgment when his phone beeps as he approaches in the opposite direction.”

People should not explain in car on phone why they are running late.

If one is late, there is little difference in apologizing while in their car over a cell phone and apologizing in front of their boss at the office. So, they should have the restraint to drive at the speed limit, arriving late, and being willing to apologize then; an apologetic cell phone call in a car to a boss shouldn’t be the cause of one being able to then relax, slow-down, and drive the speed-limit.

Citizens' judgement should be trusted in using cell phones

For example, it is responsible to use a cell phone while the car is at a standstill in gridlocked traffic, while waiting at traffic lights, or on a quiet road with good visibility ahead. The driver should be taught to use cell phones on the road with discretion, rather than rigidly banning their use all together.

Cell phone bans in cars do not save lives

"Cell-phone ban may not reduce car wrecks, study says". Sacramento Business Journal. September 16, 2004

James Prieger an economist at the University of California Davis. – “In our sample, the true effect on accidents is apparently too small to be statistically significant. That is not to say that we think there is no danger at all from using cell phones while driving.”

Calling to say "I'm running late" helps prevent speeding

Drivers now often use mobile phones to report accidents to the emergency services, and alert the police to dangerous driving, stray animals, unsafe loads, etc.

Cell phone use in cars does not cause many accidents

"Ban Cell Phones In Cars?". December 29, 2000

“Cell phone subscribership in the United States has grown dramatically in recent years, from 92,000 people in 1985 to more than 77 million in 1999. A recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey reports that 44 percent of drivers have a cell phone with them while driving, a number that will only increase with the proliferation of phone ownership. We calculated that car accidents associated with phone use account for about 300 deaths per year. While small in comparison to the 41,000 annual deaths from car accidents, these deaths raise the question whether cell phone use while driving is justifiable. We think a ban is unwise at this time because vehicular cell phone use provides substantial personal and societal benefits, but does not contribute to a large number of serious accidents.”

Cell phone use in cars probably saves lives

Using mobiles on the road could improve safety, for example, by allowing delayed employees to ring in to the office rather than drive recklessly in an effort to arrive more promptly. Drivers now often use mobile phones to report accidents to the emergency services, and alert the police to dangerous driving, stray animals, unsafe loads, etc.

Banning cell phones is not the best way to save lives

"Ban Cell Phones In Cars?". December 29, 2000

“A prudent regard for safety doesn’t imply cell phones should be banned. Americans are willing to tolerate some 41,000 annually deaths from car accidents. If we wish to decisively curtail automobile deaths, the national speed limit should be set at 10 miles per hour and vigorously enforced–yet we’re not willing to do that, because that inconvenience outweighs the pleasure and efficiency of being able to get places quickly.”

Cell phone ban introduces new distraction of scanning for cops

Other distractions: Is cell-phone use uniquely distracting?

Cell phones in cars can be regulated, unlike other distractions

"Editorial: Cellphone ban long overdue". The Dominion Post. June 12th, 2008

“Previous attempts to stop motorists using hand-held cellphones foundered in the face of arguments that cellphones are just one form of driver distraction. Eating, loading cassettes or CDs into car stereos, dropped cigarettes and even buzzing insects can be equally hazardous. But cellphone use, which contributed to 26 fatal crashes and 411 injury crashes between 2002 and 2007, is something the Government can do something about now.”

Passengers are less distracting than cell phones

University of South Carolina Psychology Professor Amit Almor said that cell phone conversations and conversations with a passenger are very different. – “When you have someone sitting next you you, that person can, in fact, function as an extra pair of eyes. That person can respond to the changing road conditions.”

Talking on phone equally impairing as drinking and driving.

Utah Pscycologists warn against cell phone use while driving. Much in the same way that you put yourself and others at risk by driving drunk, the same occurs when driving while using a cell phone.

Many things in cars are just as distracting as cell phones

These include eating, changing tapes, retuning the radio, arguing with your spouse about directions, trying to stop children squabbling, etc. We should not introduce a law that victimizes mobile phone users under all conditions, while completely ignoring many other causes of accidents.

If you can't ban sleep-driving, why ban talking on phone in car.

There is no way that police can moniter the amount of sleep drivers have had before they drive. If driving and talking on the phone is to be banned, then driving while falling asleep ought to be banned as well. But of course, this doesn’t make any sense, which is why banning talking on the phone and driving is also unreasonable.

Teaching drivers to minimize distractions better than phone ban

John Walls, a vice president at the industry group, the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association-The Wireless Association. – “We believe educating drivers on how to best handle all of the possible distractions when you’re behind the wheel is the most effective means to make better drivers, and that legislation focusing on a specific behavior falls short of that well-intended goal and creates a false sense of security.”

Practice: Do users of cell phones get better with practice?

Drivers don't get better with practice on cell phones

"Hands-free cellphone use while driving won't make the roads safer, studies show." LA Times. 30 June 2008

“‘And you don’t get any better with practice,’ Strayer adds. In his lab, subjects who reported they use a cellphone a lot when driving ‘show every bit as much impairment’ than those who do so infrequently.”

Importance: Is cell phone use in cars unimportant? Relative to risks?

Cell phone use in cars is unnecessary; people went without them before.,

and little else about life has changed radically enough to make them indispensable, so there is no real loss of personal liberty in having your ability to communicate restricted in this way. If there is a pressing need to make a call, then drivers can always pull over and dial from a parked vehicle. The ban will also protect drivers from pressure from bosses who call them while on the road, effectively requiring their employees to risk their lives for the company.

People should pull over to talk on their cell phones.

The social benefits of cell phones are not significantly curtailed if people are required to pull over to talk on their phones.

People will adjust to not using cell phones

"Editorial: Cell phone law worth pain". Examiner. 3 July 2008

“California’s brand-new automotive cell phone restrictions can be seen as a sequel to the earlier cold-turkey readjustment — “Seatbelt Withdrawal Pains II.” In other words, don’t worry. Even cell phone addicts will be able to successfully stop driving with phones held to their ears, and the changeover will be worthwhile.”

Cell phones should only be used while driving in dire situations

US National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration

“Drivers should make every effort to pull over in a safe stopping point before using their telephones. In an emergency, drivers should use their best judgement about whether or not to use their telephones.”

Social benefits of cell phones in cars outweigh risks

Patrick Dudley, who authored the report with Robert Hahn, American Enterprise Institution-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies. “The Disconnect Between Law and Policy Analysis: A Case Study of Drivers and Cell Phones.” – “The public places a greater cost benefit on the convenience of using phones while driving than it does on safety…We’re explaining why the case for a ban isn’t there, looking at safety versus economic benefits.”

One study conducted by Robert Hahn and John Hird estimated the costs of a ban at $25 billion, compared to the total economic losses, including deaths and injuries, of $4.6 billion.

Hands-free phones: Are hands-free mobile phones just as dangerous?

Hands-free cell phones are just as distracting to drivers

Conversations of any kind (with or without the involvement of the hands) impairs concentration and reactions in braking tests.[studies?…] For some reason the brain treats a telephone conversation differently from talking to a passenger, perhaps because the passenger is also aware of possible road hazards in a way the telephone caller cannot be and so makes less demands upon the driver in terms of concentration at critical moments. In any case, voice activated technology is often unreliable, risking drivers trying to use it getting frustrated and losing concentration. It would be inconsistent to ban one sort of mobile phone while allowing the other sort, which can be just as lethal. Therefore, hands-free mobile phone use while driving should also be banned.

Hands-free phones can cause drivers to scramble for head sets

"Hands-free cellphone use while driving won't make the roads safer, studies show. Why? Brain overload." LA Times. 30 June 2008

“Some researchers, in fact, fear that the new law may cause more traffic accidents, not fewer, because they envision more distractions for many motorists. When ring tones chime and drivers scramble to find their newly purchased headsets — or, alternatively, scan the roadsides for police enforcing the new ban — their attention, already stretched, will be further taxed.”

Hands-free cell phones are sufficiently safe on the road.

These allow drivers to communicate freely without taking their hands off the controls or their eyes off the road. Effectively there is no difference between talking to someone on a hands-free mobile, and holding a conversation with a passenger next to you; in fact, the latter is more dangerous as you may be tempted to turn your head to directly address the passenger.

Ban on hands-free phones improves driving in bad conditions

a fellow at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California -

“Hands-free laws clearly reduce fatalities in bad weather and on wet roads.”

More difficult to enforce hands-free cell phone ban

"Cell-Phone Ban Not a Good Call". Wired. September 12th, 2002

“Most politicians know that trying to ban hands-free cell-phone use would mean cops trying to pull over everyone they see mumbling to themselves.”

Careless driving laws: Are careless driving laws insufficient?

Careless driving laws are inadequate; cell phone ban is necessary.

driving without due care and attention is a limited charge that can be very difficult to prove. In any case, every time a driver of a moving vehicle uses a mobile phone a potentially dangerous situation is created, as they are much less able to react to events around them. This justifies a specific offence being introduced.

Cell phone ban is unnecessary; careless driving laws are sufficient

This means that if someone is driving dangerously through inappropriate use of their mobile phone, then the police can already prosecute them. Rather than introduce a new law, the police should instead enforce the existing rules more thoroughly. This could be coupled with energetic advertising campaigns to warn people of a range of potentially dangerous driving habits.

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