Can you safely talk on a cellphone – or for that matter, check your email or scroll through Google Maps – while driving? Well, of course you can. But those other folks with their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road are a public menace.
Unfortunately, that sums up the attitude of many American motorists, who widely acknowledge using their phones while behind the wheel but insist they’re safe drivers. Meanwhile, the number of people worried about the other guy is soaring.
More than one in four Americans who download applications to their smartphones admit to using those apps while driving, according to a survey by Nationwide Mutual Insurance. Motorists have good reason to worry about this. Studies show that people talking on their cell phones are four times more likely to be in an accident than other drivers, and their level of impairment is comparable to people with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent, the legal limit. And that research was done back when cell phones were used only for making calls. Now that they’re used for posting on Facebook or playing Angry Birds, we suspect the dangers are much greater.
Lawmakers haven’t caught up. Thirty states ban cell phone use by novice drivers, but none do so for all drivers. California has a law that tries to limit the problem but aims at the wrong target. Here, it’s forbidden to text while driving or to hold a cell phone to one’s ear, but drivers over 18 can still talk using a hands-free device. But there is no evidence that using hands-free devices reduces accidents, which happen because drivers are distracted by their conversations, not because they’re using one hand to hold a phone.
A total cell phone ban would avoid the problem of legislating for yesterday’s technology, and reduce the number of accidents. Meanwhile, if you value your life and the lives of others, don’t dial and drive.