OK, let’s ban hand-held cell phone use while driving. (57 Responses)

I’ve gotten a huge volume of feedback on the legislative proposal to ban hand-held phone use.  Most of that feedback was in response to my ambivalent post laying out the pros and cons of the proposal.  The feedback I have received has convinced me to support the proposal.

The feedback has driven home for me a few points. First, hand-held cell phone use really is worse than hands-free use. Driving with a cell phone is something that most people have tried and the overwhelming verdict of experience is that it is dangerous.

Everyone drives one-handed a percentage of the time, but driving with a cell phone is like driving with one hand tied behind one’s back — it is hard to break off the call and use the phone hand.

More importantly, if one has to look down and dial, that is really as bad as texting.  The visual/manual engagement involved in operating that hard-to-see box requires moments of complete attention during which road hazards may be missed.

Hands free use is less dangerous, but is still dangerous.  Again, the experiences offered in the hundreds of comments I’ve received confirm the research.  The brain engagement in imagining the person at the other end of the line and maintaining the conversation with them is greater than that involved in an easy stop-and-start conversation with a passenger.

The official statistics suggest that cell phones are involved in a very small fraction of accidents.  Further while cell phone use has exploded, the overall accident rate has continued to fall. However, there is good reason to believe that cell phone use in accidents is under reported.  And there is a broad consensus among my constituents, based on myriad observations, that people on cell phones are making a lot of mistakes.

The conveniences involved in cell phone use are huge and include real safety benefits from time to time.  So, we cannot realistically ban them completely, but the move to hands-free-only is a step in the right direction.

As I mentioned in my first post on the subject, the law may be hard to enforce.  Violations can be concealed and the police have more important things to do.  But the overwhelming support for the proposal means something — it means that many people are willing to follow the law voluntarily and will take some pride in doing so.   Laws cannot create consensus that does not exist (as in alcohol Prohibition), but they can ratify and strengthen consensus on what is right and what is wrong.  In this case, I believe that is worth doing.

I also expressed reservations that the new law would favor people of means who can acquire hands free phones.  The good news is that the costs of high quality phones have dropped dramatically.  The economic hurdle to legal hands free phone is getting lower and lower.

I came down against primary seat belt enforcement, but I come down in favor of this cell phone ban.  Distracted driving endangers everyone.  People who don’t buckle up are most likely to hurt themselves.  The concern about racial profiling is real in both cases, but in this case, the possible benefits of sending a strong message against distracted driving are too great to pass up.  It is important to remember that the penalties are modest — civil tickets ($100, not a moving violation, for first offense), not incarceration.

I hope that we will pass the law and combine it with an awareness campaign to discourage distracted driving.

In this case, as in many others, I have benefited greatly from your feedback.  Thank you!

Keep the thoughts coming on possible wrinkles.  I’ll try to assure that drafting issues that speak to special cases and concerns are addressed.


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    Will Brownsberger
    State Senator
    2d Suffolk and Middlesex District