Hands-free devices still risky while driving

Danette Spiers

A cell phone rings and the world stops. There seems to be nothing more important while driving than that incoming call about scheduling a dinner date with friends or just simply gossiping about that guy at work.

We have all driven with a person like this, the one who couldn’t miss the call, stopped talking to you in mid-conversation, and then took their eyes off the road to grab the vibrating phone in the middle console.

They think they are excellent at multitasking and being able to carry on a discussion and drive without being distracted. But cell phones in cars are a deadly weapon, and should be against the law, even if some can successfully find their way home.

The new California driving law prohibiting cell phone use while operating a vehicle, coming into effect in July of this year, is the first step needed to get people to put their phones down.

In 2005, there were “974,000 vehicles on the road, at any given daylight moment, being driven by someone on a hand held phone,” according to a research project done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

This is a scary thought because there is a lot at stake for the person driving next to a cell phone user.

Holding the phone or talking hands free, these drivers can be just as bad as drunk drivers a study done by the University of Utah in 2006 stated. People who participated in the study were “9 percent slower to hit the brakes” and then “19 percent slower to resume normal speed after breaking and were more likely to crash” than drivers who were not distracted. These findings were similar to those in the study who drove in a vehicle simulator with a 0.08 percent alcohol level.

Cell phones simply complicate driving. And there is no way to get around this fact.

The tickets will be nothing more than an irritation, at first, with a $20 fee for the first offense and $50 for the second, with some additional costs. This won’t solve the problem. Many people will continue to pick up the phone. But this might just make people think twice. And that’s a start.

I’ve heard some say this law is stupid and a waste of time for cops who should be able to focus on real reckless drivers and criminals, not tracking down drivers going 10 mph over the speed limit using their cell phone.

And, in reality, it shouldn’t be their job. This is our own responsibility, to make the choice, and keep the roads as safe as possible by not using a cell phone. We have come to this point, though, where 16-year-olds think it’s no big deal to press buttons while driving in the rain.

A few years ago, I, too, found myself enticed to use the phone while on a long stretch of Interstate 5. I took my eyes off the road for a split second when I accidentally dropped my phone by my feet. I slightly drifted into the planted medium at 75 mph. Scared and embarrassed, I pulled back into the lane. Other drivers must have thought I dozed off.

I thought using a hands free device would help, but for important calls only. It didn’t.Hands free systems, which will be permitted for drivers 18 and older, are not any better.

It’s hard to notice the person that is about to cut you off when you’re engaged in a serious or upsetting conversation.Coming close to causing an accident was enough for me. I’m just not sure what it will take for others.

The risks are too high. Just pull over it’s that important. Let the phone go unanswered. And let the tickets mount for those who do otherwise.