Can You See Me Now?

The National Safety Council has called on all states to ban cell phone use while driving. The Council is a tax-exempt non-profit organization that advocates for various safety measures for the home, work-place, roadways, and communities. It had been highly successful in its campaign to make seatbelt use mandatory nationwide. Anyone who has watched a driver bearing down on them on the highway or veering away just in time to avoid a collision – while talking on their cell phone – probably doesn’t need an advocacy group to tell them that cell phone use while driving is dangerous. In fact, the early science on the phenomenon may be scarier than our collective experiences. According to the editor of the Journal Human Factors, cell phone distraction is responsible for nearly 3,000 traffic deaths and 300,000 injuries each year. Researchers who have studied the problem conclude that drivers using cell phones have reactions that are as impaired as someone who is driving while intoxicated. Perhaps surprisingly, the evidence suggests that the use of hands-free cell phones is just as dangerous as hand-held models. The driver’s attention, and eyes, are not sufficiently focused on the road, where hazards can appear in a moment. Despite the growing evidence that cell phone use while driving is a menace, measures to ban it are resisted, often fiercely. Many of us have a libertarian streak in our cars, the modern day version of the lure of the open range. There may also be a backlash to the perception that too many things that some like, but that are bad for us, are being regulated out of existence. Whether drivers remain legally able to use their cell phones while behind the wheel may ultimately depend on how much we value our desire to be left alone versus our need for us and our loved ones to be safe on our highways.

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