No. The roads are filled with distractions and drivers doing silly things. If we ban cell phones, we should also crack down on the guy who dunks a croissant in his cappuccino while steering with his knees.
I use my phone for emergencies and urgent business, and I'm not alone. Cell phones are vital instruments of commerce. A 2002 study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis placed the economic value of phone calls from cars at about $43 billion per year. A cell phone ban would cut down on medical bills and property damage but the net result would be an economic wash.
I know, I know. Several studies show that talking on a phone while driving raises the risk of crashes. But studies have also concluded that the risk is small compared to other distractions. In statistics released by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center in 2003, for example, cell phones rank eighth among distractions causing crashes. Do you know what was once considered a hazard? Windshield wipers. Let's wait until we have more information before we pass a law.
By Bruce Newman
Yes. I have a friend who likes to call from her car to pass the time during her long commute. It probably won't surprise you to learn that many of these conversations end with my friend swearing colorfully, dropping the phone suddenly, then recounting some catastrophe she narrowly avoided.
In a study published last year by the AEI-Brookings Joint Center, a team of researchers compared the effects of driving while yapping on the phone with driving while drunk. They concluded that drivers using cell phones exhibited greater impairment than intoxicated drivers.
A 2004 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found that at any given daylight moment, an estimated 1.2 million drivers in the United States are on the phone. Even when these drivers aren't doing anything blatantly illegal, they're out of sync with traffic. They're the ones who send pedestrians scrambling on city streets because they never use their turn signals—that would require taking the nonphone hand off the wheel.
New Jersey, New York, and Washington, D.C., have made it illegal to use handheld mobile phones while driving, and similar legislation is pending in other states. Call your lawmakers to urge them to help get it passed. Just don't do it from your car.
Note: AAA advises not using mobile phones while driving unless absolutely necessary.
Photo Illustration by William Duke
This article was first published in May 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.