Cellular telephones are fast becoming an important factor in highway safety. "Cellular phones are becoming increasingly universal, marked by a 1,685% increase in the number of users from 1988 to 1995." (Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association). There are many studies currently being made looking into the risks involved with driving vehicles and talking on cellular phones. Many states are even experimenting with the idea of tickets for talking and driving. Such ticketing would affect a great deal of people. The number of business people using their cellular phones in their every day job, which often involves a lot of travel is constantly increasing. Nearly 75% of the 120 million cell phone users (approximately 34 million subscribers) in the United States rely on their cellular phones to conduct business or talk to family, friends, and loved ones while driving. (Garrett p. 6; Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association). This increase also brings about a rise in phone-related accidents.
While it is clear that cellular phones provide individuals with numerous advantages, it is equally clear that driving while operating a cellular phone is highly dangerous. Thus, although cell phones allow individuals to report emergencies or telephone family members, friends, loved ones, and employers, the use of cell phones while driving should be either banned or restricted in order to minimize the hazards associated with cell phone use while driving.
II. ARGUMENTS IN FAVOR OF BANNING OR RESTRICTING CELL PHONE
USE WHILE DRIVING
The need for safety policies is turning a great deal of heads. However, state policymakers must weigh the benefits of wireless technology against the growing evidence of the potential dangers of cell phones in automobiles. Numerous recent studies correlate driver use of cellular telephones with an increased risk of crash. In Japan, a National Police Agency survey found that Japanese drivers who used cell phones while driving caused 2,297 accidents in 1997, leading to 25 fatalities and 3,000 injuries. (Moore p. 30-32, Redelmeier). The agency also analyzed 1,248 car-phone-related motor vehicle accidents in a six-month period between 1997 and 1998. (Moore p. 30-32, Redelmeier). Of these incidents, 537 (43%) occurred while the driver was receiving a telephone call; 286 (22.9%) occurred while the driver was operating the telephone; 208 (16.7%) crashed while talking on the telephone; and 217 (17.4%) are attributed to other distractions. (Moore p. 30-32, Redelmeier).
One of the most infamous studies was that of 699 collisions involving vehicles that had cell phones that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers concluded "the risk of a collision when using a cell phone was four times higher than the risk when a cell phone was not being used." (Moore p. 30-32, Redelmeier). It was also shown that dialing and answering a phone provide the same impairment as driving while intoxicated. (Moore p. 30-32, Redelmeier). The report found no distinction in safety between hand-held cell phone devices and hands-free devices. (Moore p. 30-32, Redelmeier).
Talking on cellular phones affect a person in several ways. For example, the emotional stress involved in a conversation may lead to a decreased awareness in what is happening on the road. Having to dial phone numbers and answering calls really take your attention away from the road. It is hard to look at the dangers of using a cellular phone when there are so many good uses. Many people depend on their phone for many aspects of their job and could not get by without it. It is possible for them to take a minute and get off of the road and talk before heading back out. This would decrease the number of accidents a great deal.
Many cellular phones are used for emergency calls and reporting drunks, but this may also be done while the car is parked. Someone who is going to call in an emergency will not be cruising down the road. Wireless technology proponents argue that phones are no more distracting than a radio, food or the vanity mirror. They say that the same reckless driving laws as any other driver should cover people who drive carelessly while using a car phone. However, as more constituents report near misses with drivers using car phones, legislators may feel growing pressure to specifically restrict cellular phone use in automobiles.
While all states have laws regarding careless/reckless driving, few have specific legislation to govern the use of cell phones while driving. (Moore p. 30-32). Presently, only California, Florida, and Massachusetts impose restrictions, and these are minor. (Moore p. 30-32).
For example, in California, rental cars with cellular telephone equipment must include written operating instructions for safe use. (Moore p. 30-32). Likewise, in Florida, cellular phone use is permitted in an automobile as long as it provides sound through one ear and allows surrounding sound to be heard with the other ear. (Moore p. 30-32).
In Massachusetts, car phones are permitted as long as they do not interfere with vehicle operation and drivers keep one hand on the steering wheel at all times. (Moore p. 30-32, National Conference for State Legislatures). Twelve states- California, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas- currently require police to include information about cell phones in accident reports. (Moore p. 30-32, National Conference for State Legislatures). Tennessee requires some law enforcement agencies to collect data about cell phone involvement in crashes (Moore p. 30-32, National Conference for State Legislatures).
Since 1995, at least 37 states have proposed bills regarding cellular telephones in automobiles. (Moore p. 30-32, National Conference for State Legislatures). According to the National Conference for State Legislatures, in 2000, at least 27 states (compared to 15 in 1999) considered measures to limit in-vehicle cell phone use. However, none of the bills passed, although several are currently pending (Moore p. 30-32, National Conference for State Legislatures). Legislation varied in severity from proposals that would ban all use in vehicles to requirements for hands-free devices, phone call length restrictions, and requirements to keep one ear free. To date, the federal government has not acted to limit cellular telephone use in automobiles.
Because so few states regulate wireless technology in motor vehicles, it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of the new laws. Car phone regulations in foreign jurisdictions, however, provide valuable insight. Many countries throughout Europe including Australia, Brazil, Chile, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Switzerland restrict or prohibit the use of cell phones in vehicles. (Moore p. 30-32). In addition, many of these countries allow cell phone use only in combination with a hands-free device. (Moore p. 30-32).
Wireless telephone use among drivers will continue to grow. As use increases, state legislatures will be increasingly challenged to balance safety concerns against the obvious benefits of the new technology. Already, state legislatures are considering measures to improve data collection, link cellular phones with insurance, and restrict use of wireless telephones in motor vehicles.
As the number of cell phone users continues to rise, more individuals will likely use their cell phones while driving. As with any distraction related to driving, individuals must use common sense and sound judgment when operating a motor vehicle, particularly when using a cell phone. This requires that drivers know where they are in relation to pedestrian and traffic hazards, and also understand how to interface most safely with the in-vehicle technology. Regardless of any legislative mandates that may emerge, drivers must be aware of the hazards related to the use of cell phones while driving and realize that they are responsible for the control of their vehicles at all times. This mandates that drivers operate their vehicles at the lowest risk possible and avoid distractions that take their attention away from the task at hand, i.e. driving safely.