There is a bill in the New Hampshire legislature that would ban drivers from using cell phones that are not hands-free, and it may be one of the most useless (and that is saying something) bill in the legislature this year.
Not that long ago the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) maintained detailed research on distracted driving. In that data was a factoid that is now nearly impossible to find; having a conversation with someone in the vehicle is just as distracting as having one on a cell phone.
This makes the hands-free exception pointless. And unless you plan on banning passengers, or banning conversation with your passengers, prohibiting cell phone use accomplishes nothing.
Proponents of a proposed ban have quoted “experts” on state data who have reported only that ‘distraction’ is a significant cause of collisions and deaths.
This justification for the new law is so broad as to be useless. And even the NHTSA can’t tell you (Link no longer works) for sure if having a conversation on a cell phone or with a passenger is more distracting…
What do the studies say about the relative risk of cell phone use when compared to other tasks like drinking or eating?
Most crashes involve a relatively unique set of circumstances that make precise calculations of risk for engaging in different behaviors very difficult. Thus, the available research does not provide a definitive answer as to which behavior is riskier. Different studies and analyses have arrived at different relative risk estimates for different tasks. However, they all show elevated risk (or poorer driving performance) when the driver is distracted. It is also important to keep in mind that some activities are carried out more frequently and for longer periods of time and may result in greater risk.
Given this “decisive” declaration, that studies vary and are inconclusive, we’re left with a conundrum. If cell vs. The passenger is inconclusive, “Hands-free” cell phones use must be no less distracting than a passenger, which means the NH cell phone use ban is useless if we do not also ban passenger.
That means that the only possible reason to enact such a ban is that someone who has no idea what they are talking about wants to inconvenience millions of people daily for no useful purpose.
Distracted driving has always been the cause of most collisions and fatalities, even when we didn’t have cell phones and had more of both. But the majority of drivers in New Hampshire (and the nation) manage to get from A to B adjusting radios, the temperature controls, dealing with children or other passengers, un-sticking frozen windows, eating, singing, grooming, arguing with a ‘loved one’, looking at the scenery, resisting (or not) the attention of an amorous girlfriend (or boyfriend), daydreaming, yelling at everyone else (because no one else knows how to drive) and yes–talking on a cell phone. Billions of these exchanges take place annually (just in New Hampshire), and yet only a fraction of them result in traffic tickets, collisions, property damage, injury, or in the most tragic of outcomes, death.
There is no way even to calculate how often these ‘distractions’ occur successfully, and I am not suggesting they do not increase risk–because they do, but it seems evident that any mandate to change the daily habits of millions of people to offset a sliver of adverse outcomes is just a wee bit fascist.
The problem is not the phone, or the radio, or the children, or the angry spouse or amorous girlfriend, or the lack of legislation, it’s people. If you removed all the cell phones, radios, children, even adult passengers, you’d still find yourself with an unpleasant number of collisions, injuries, and deaths because people will still under-sleep, over-medicate, or more often than not, just fail to respect the risk that driving represents. You can’t legislate that away, nor should you punish everyone with some populist pap of a bill because as the NHTSA points out…”Most crashes involve a relatively unique set of circumstances that make precise calculations of risk for engaging in different behaviors very difficult.”
Like the pointless texting ban, the proposed cell phone ban would be impotent, unenforceable, or its enforcement would be detrimental to other priorities.
One more point. The largest number of distracted drivers are those under the age of twenty, who, since long before texting, cell phones, or even car radios, represented a significant percentage of motor vehicle-related crashes, property damage, injuries, and fatalities. Automobiles have consistently represented their most likely cause of injury and death, for years. They are also the group most likely to ignore or try to get around a ban for the same reason they have been less likely to do all the things that keep you from being another young-driver statistic now, or thirty years ago.
The cell phone ban is pointless grandstanding that will inconvenience millions who are effective at managing distractions for immediate or long-term benefit because the problem is not the phones, it is the people, and any number of variables, that you cannot possibly legislate out of existence, and it always will be.
We have had a distracted driving law for years that has done little or nothing. We have a texting ban that is enforceable and done little or nothing. The proposed partial ban on cell phones is unenforceable and will do little or nothing. Enforcement will almost always come after the collision or fatality. If it can even be proven after the fact it negates the stated purpose (prevention). And, as pointed out previously, if you don’t ban hands-free, and passengers as well, you’ll just be pissing people off so you can claim you tried to do something, even though that something was nothing.