Commentary: Don't Dial and Drive

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, July 7, 2006

The newest bill to ban phoning while driving unless you have a hands free device would impose fines of $20 for the first offense and $50 for each subsequent violation. The goal here - to reduce the number of accidents caused by drivers dialing, or fumbling to find and answer their cell phones - is laudable. But I don’t think it will work.

Talking on the phone while driving is a dangerous distraction, whether the driver is holding the phone or not. It's not just the act of pushing a key pad or answering the phone that's dangerous. A person talking on the phone while driving loses cognitive awareness. In other words, when you're deeply absorbed in a conversation with someone not in the car, you can drift into la la land. That's what impairs your driving. And it happens whether you're holding the cell phone in your hands or not.

Research in places like Australia, where it's long been against the law to drive and talk on the phone without a hands free device, proves the point. Drivers talk with phones in their hands despite the law. And crash data show the risk of accidents is the same for drivers with or without hands free phones.

Of course, there is a common sense way for drivers to reduce the risk of accidents. Just hang up and drive.


Ginger Rutland writes for the Sacramento Bee Opinion pages.