Cell Phones: Ban The Bans Essay, Research Paper
Ban the Bans on Cell Phones
A young girl riding in her mother?s car is killed when a driver, talking on his cell phone, runs a stop sign in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Further south in a suburb of Camden, New Jersey, a driver ploughs through a group of pedestrians. An elderly couple dies as a result of his efforts to retrieve a dropped cigarette. In western Ohio, a driver causes serious injury to a father and son on their way home from a fishing expedition. The offending driver was changing stations on his radio and unknowingly drifted into oncoming traffic.
These are all tragic stories of accidents that could have been avoided. All of these incidents are also covered in most states by existing careless driving laws. Why then do some local municipalities and several states find it necessary to single out the cell phone user? In many states a handful of local authorities have already enacted local ordinances banning the use of cell phones while driving. In most cases, the law only applies to hand-held cell phones. Since 1995, 22 states have proposed legislation to regulate car phones. None of the bills have been voted into law. There are bills currently pending in ten states.
There are many reasons why states have not passed cell phone laws to date, but the primary reason is a lack of convincing evidence to support a ban on their use. The local laws already enacted were done so in haste and should be repealed. The bills currently pending in some states should be reconsidered or removed from legislative agendas. Local laws are difficult to enforce and usually do not apply to hands-free phones. An example exists in our own backyard. The Borough of Conshohocken passed an ordinance in 1999 banning the use of hand-held cell phones while driving in the borough. Neighboring Plymouth and Whitemarsh townships have no such ban. If you are using your cell phone in Plymouth, you had better know exactly where Plymouth ends and Conshohocken begins.
Just like the ?right turn on red laws?, driving regulations should be enacted and administered by the state. It is, after all, the state that provides drivers education material and administers drivers? licensing tests. The bills now pending in state legislatures should be re-considered for several reasons. Careless driving laws already exist and studies have not determined that cell phone use is any more dangerous than eating, smoking, or tuning the radio while driving.
A 1998 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) supports this theory. The NHTSA?s mission is to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce traffic-related health care and other economic costs. The Agency develops, promotes, and implements effective educational, engineering, and enforcement programs to prevent or mitigate motor vehicle crashes and reduce economic costs associated with vehicle use and highway travel. Its findings support educating the users of cell phones, promoting new phone technology that reduces user distraction, and continued monitoring of accident causes.
In a 1991 study, researches determined that the use of a cellular phone did not interfere significantly with the ability to control an automobile, except among the elderly. The study was conducted by James McKnight and A. Scott McKnight, researchers for the National Public Services Research Institute. The subjects of the study observed a half-hour video driving sequence containing 47 situations to which drivers would be expected to respond using simulator driving controls. Each situation occurred under five conditions of distraction: placing a cellular phone call, carrying on a simple phone conversation, carrying on a complex phone conversation, tuning a radio, and no distraction. While complex conversations did cause some delays in response, tuning the radio, simple conversations, and placing the call caused minimal distraction, with one exception. Drivers in the 55 to 80 age group showed increased distraction while placing the call.
There are other cell phone studies for which the findings are similar: cell phone use is no more distracting than activities such as tuning a radio, conversing with a passenger, or fixing our hair. While discussing cell phones in a meeting of the Oregon State Legislative Committee, Senator Marylin Shannon pointed out a Minnesota study that found daydreaming was responsible for more accidents than cell phone use. ?Shall we make a law against daydreaming?, she asked. No one favors legislation that has yet to be proven necessary.
The proponents of cell phone bans believe that preventing accidents is more important than personal freedoms. That is a larger constitutional argument than we have time for here. But if their case is to be acknowledged, then we must also ban eating, conversing with passengers, and tuning our radios while driving.
Another consideration is the benefit of having cell phones while driving. Cell phones have been used to report hazardous road conditions, aggressive or drunk drivers, and road emergencies. Many times, these calls are made from highways where it would be difficult to pull onto the road shoulder, make the call, and then merge back into fast moving highway traffic. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has concluded that cellular phones often reduce response time to automobile accidents and actually save lives.
We are becoming a nation of redundant laws. We see a problem and we run to establish another law. In the process, our personal freedoms, fought for by countless predecessors, are continually diminished. Cell phones have a place in our lives and, if used carefully, will cause no harm. When we are careless in our use of them, we should be subject to the careless driving laws that already exist for our protection. Our best approach to increased safety on the road is through the education of drivers about the responsible use of cell phones. The Division of Motor Vehicles in our states should include usage guidelines in state publications and in driver?s testing. Education, not legislation, is the answer.