Cell phone driving has become normal in today’s busy society. Most of us have done it, and I’m certainly no exception. If you never have, then you should be commended and by all means, don’t start now!
Conflicting studies make things confusing
These days, the media constantly talks about how dangerous cell phone driving is. Yet, some other reports suggest it’s not dangerous at all. So who do we believe? The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Unlike texting while driving, the studies done on cell phone driving aren’t as clear cut. Many studies seem to completely contradict themselves about driving with a cell phone. Further, the studies are often quite flawed and obviously biased. That’s why many people don’t take the warnings about cell phone use while driving seriously.
Cell phone driving and defensive driving don’t mix
After you boil it all down though, you can’t possibly use proper defensive driving techniques while you’re yapping away on your cell. In order to use defensive driving, you must stay focused on the task of driving. There are many driving distractions both inside and outside our vehicles. Your car radio, screaming kids in the backseat, the beautiful blond walking down the sidewalk, or possibly even spotting a UFO while taking a leisurely Sunday drive near Area 51. Talking on your cell phone is just one distraction among many, and the one this article focuses on. It isn’t necessarily any better or worse than the slew of other distractions around you (and there are many!).
What makes cell phone driving so dangerous?
Why would talking on a phone be any more dangerous than talking to a passenger sitting next to you? First of all, talking to a passenger is indeed a distraction. And it’s one of the most common forms of distracted driving. So don’t be fooled! But talking on a cell phone is worse.
Consider this; When a passenger is riding with you in a vehicle, they are able to see everything you’re seeing. So, the tone in their voice changes, or they’ll shut up as you approach a busy intersection, when an emergency vehicle is near, etc. But when they are talking to you via telephone, they never change their tone based on your specific surroundings. They have no clue that you’re trying to make a left turn at a busy intersection. The result is your cell buddy will keep yapping away, and expect you to yap back. This, in turn, has some pretty substantial psychological effects on you, the driver. It also forces you to multitask, especially when navigating complex intersections and maneuvering around potential roadway hazards.
That’s why some studies have shown Bluetooth headsets don’t help. Those studies show that it’s not necessarily the physical device that’s distracting, but the mental power it takes to talk and drive, especially when you need to concentrate on a more dangerous task, such as navigating a construction zone. That’s why many states have banned phone use in construction zones and school zones even when using a hands-free device.
Do Bluetooth or hands-free devices help at all?
If you must use your cell when you’re behind the wheel, using a Bluetooth headset or earpiece is something I highly recommend. At least with a headset, you are able to keep both hands on the wheel. Further, if you are holding the phone to your left ear, for instance, you are cutting off a certain percentage of your peripheral vision. The same is true if you hold the phone to your right year. It may not seem like much, but our peripheral vision plays a much more important role than most realize and may even block vision to a properly set side mirror. It’s extremely important to keep your vision, in all directions, as unobstructed as possible. Having both hands available is also a plus. Even if you’re a typical “one-handed” driver (tsk-tsk!), you never know when that second hand will be quickly needed.
Are there any advantages to cell phones in cars?
Believe it or not, there are actually some advantages to having cell phones in our vehicles. The ability to report unsafe or intoxicated drivers is of great use. Other obvious advantages include the ability to call for help should you be involved in an accident or get stranded on the side of the road. It’s very comforting knowing that help is always a quick phone call away. I’d even consider having a cell phone in the car one of the “must-haves” when taking long-distance trips.
That is why I’m against an outright ban on cell phone driving. People need to use common sense. If they don’t, blanketed laws will be the result, such as texting while driving laws. Don’t ruin it for the rest of us!
If you must talk and drive…
While cell phone driving isn’t as dangerous as many other forms of distracted driving, such as eating while driving, in the end, it is still a distraction. Use common sense here. If you feel like you’re in a situation where cell phone driving might be dangerous, then it is. Hang up.
Choose where you talk and drive
The best thing to say here is to never talk and drive. But I’m not naive. People will do it, even knowing the dangers. Just like people don’t buckle up their dogs. Pure ignorance. If you choose to partake in talking on a cell phone while driving, you should at least use common sense and minimize your risk.
Driving down a country road or wide-open expressway is one place to minimize the risk (but you are still increasing your chances of crashing!). Driving through downtown Chicago during rush hour probably isn’t the best time to talk on the phone. Practice good judgment. We don’t need cell phone laws, just our own brains! Defensive driving should always be your priority, not your phone conversation!
Keep Your Passenger Informed
Keep communication open with your cell phone passenger when driving. If things start getting a little hairy, or you feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable, tell your friend you have to call them back. Or just tell them to hold on. They won’t stay mad at you for very long, I promise. Things can change in a split second when driving. They’ll totally understand. If they don’t, get some new friends! They’ve got some issues!
The advice you don’t want to hear, but already know
Of course, you’re fully aware of the best practice here. Just don’t use cell phone driving, to begin with. I know you’re very popular, but that’s what voicemail and caller ID are for. Just call your fans back later. If you need to initiate a call while driving, find a safe location to do so.
Cell Phone Driving and the U.S. Law
In July 2012, the US passed the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which is a federal transportation funding law. This provides around $17.5 million of grants (in the 2013 fiscal year) for states with primary enforcement laws against distracted driving, which includes all laws that prohibit using a cell phone while driving.
Meanwhile, no state prohibits all drivers from using all types of cell phones currently. But twenty-three (23) states, including the U.S. Virgin Islands, Washington, D.C, Guam, and Puerto Rico ban hand-held cell phones from use by all drivers while driving. Thirty-six (36) states, including the District of Columbia, prohibit new drivers to use cellphones while driving; and nineteen (19) states, plus D.C., don’t allow school drivers to use a cellphone when the children are on board.
The penalty or fines for this violation varies per state jurisdiction because each state will have separate fees. The most serious penalty for violations related to cell phone use while driving is in Alaska, which costs $500 for the first violation alone. If the violation ends up injuring other people seriously or in cases where someone died due to the accident it causes, the fine could go up to $250,000 and the driver will have to face a felony conviction.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, you’ll have to pay up to a $1,000 fine. If you’re a public transportation driver, you can end up in prison for 6 months!
Some facts about cell phone use while driving
Here are some closing facts about cell phone driving. Many studies have come back with many different results, but these are some of the more commonly accepted driving with a cell phone facts:
- 73% of drivers who own cell phones admit to cell phone driving.
- Almost 90% of accidents involving cell phone usage included multiple vehicles.
- Those with higher education (college degrees) are more likely to use cell phones while driving.
- Dialing a hand-held device was associated with nearly triple the odds of being involved in a crash or near-crash, and talking or listening to a hand-held device was associated with about a 30% increase in the odds of being involved in a crash or near-crash.
Use common sense, and avoid this habit unless it’s absolutely necessary. As always, drive safely!