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It's time to ban phone use while driving (and severely punish violators)

Al Sacco | June 22, 2015
It's perfectly legal to talk on the phone while driving in the majority of U.S. states, as long as you use a hands-free device. Now is the time for the public to change its own perception of the issue and convince lawmakers to do the right thing.

All of the U.S. states are at least trying to reduce the risk associated with driving while talking or texting. In fact, 14 states (as well as Washington, D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) already ban handheld use in automobiles while driving (but not hands-free), and 46 states (and the previously mentioned territories) have outlawed texting while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

No single state bans all cell phone use for all drivers, but 38 states and the District of Columbia ban all cell phone use by novice drivers, and 20 states and D.C. prohibit it for school bus drivers. It's still likely legal for your city bus driver to chat while working -- though they may lose their jobs if they crash through a fence on a highway overpass.

The punishments for distracted driving vary by state, and by the age of the driver, and some are "primary" (an officer can cite a driver for the offense alone) while others are "secondary" (there must be another cause for a traffic stop). Across the board, however, the punishments are relatively minor when compared to the potential consequences of serious accident, including bodily injury, even death.

Change in distracted-driving regulation requires change of public perception

Until we as a society change the general perception that driving while talking on the phone is safe enough when done correctly, we're only perpetuating the problem, and postponing the inevitable. Studies demonstrate that hands-free cell phone use is not substantially saferthan handset use in cars, because it's not about the device, it's about the distraction. But many people will argue to the contrary. The fact that it's perfectly legal to talk on the phone while driving in the majority of states (36 to be exact) as long as you use a handset-free device suggests that government leaders are under this impression -- or at least the laws reflect the misunderstanding.

Just a few decades ago, intelligent health-conscious people sat in restaurants, in bars and movie theaters, and in airplanes, while their peers smoked cigarette after cigarette, and they breathed in potentially lethal secondhand smoke. Today, we know better. If you want to smoke cigarettes, by all means, smoke 'em if you got 'em. This is America, and you should be able to do what you please to your own body. But don't expect to smoke in my home, or my car, because I know secondhand smoke is dangerous. And don't put me and mine in danger on the road because you can't put down your mobile device while driving.

In a few decades, I'd be surprised if people do not see the idea of using phones while driving in a similar light. It took time to convince lawmakers that banning smoking in public place was the right thing to do to  -- some states still don't. And it will take time for the laws regarding in-car phone use to evolve, as well.


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