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Question of the day

Thursday, Nov 29, 2007

* The setup, from

New stats in Washington, D.C., suggest that drivers are largely ignoring the District’s three-year-old ban on using hand-held phones while driving […]

But is this a surprise? When New York City first instituted a similar ban, cell-phone use by drivers dropped by 50 percent. But the numbers steadily increased after that, even as the number of citations increased as well. Same thing apparently happened in D.C. — an initial falloff, but then a return to pre-ban levels of cell usage.

A quick look around the Interwebs shows similar experiences in Connecticut, New Jersey, and elsewhere.

And this is the question that Governing asked their readers…

Should cities and states drop these laws that aren’t being enforced or followed? Or should they, for example, increase fines to make this a more serious offense?

Have at it.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - anon - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 10:25 am:

    A ban on handheld, as opposed to hands-free, cell phones isn’t justified by the research. It’s the distration of the mind’s eye, not the lack of a hand, that leads to more accidents.

  2. - Bill S. Preston, Esq. - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 10:28 am:

    Increase fines. Enforcement for this should be on a “Click It or Ticket”-type level.

    C’mon people, get a bluetooth, use speakerphone… you have options!

  3. - Special Session - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 10:31 am:

    This has been addressed in other countries beyond the US. For instance, in Brazil, where the use of cell phones while driving is outlawed throughout the state, the initial penalty was the equivalent of $75 USD - after which, the steady increase of use was seen there as well. When the penalty was increased to the equivalent of $1000 USD, the drop was dramatic and those who DO continue to use their cell phones while driving, ’sneak’ it by using hands-free devices to disguise it.

    On a more personal note - I have noted (very unscientifically, of course) that nearly every ‘near accident’ I seem to get in with another driver, almost always ends up being someone either dialing or talking on their cell phone. As with all things, I’m sure there are some of us who are better than others at ‘multi-tasking’ - but why risk it. In the same way there are some people who can drive a car safely at 100MPH, there are many who can’t and therefore it stands to reason that the safety of all outweighs the convenience of a few.

  4. - Ghost - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 10:32 am:

    I tend to a more darwinian approach. Change the current law to make it per se negligience if your in an accident while on the phone. Then if your on the phone, and if you get in an accident, the civil system can provide you your punishment.

    It would be nice to see the insurance companies provide rate breaks based on the existance of a hands free (bluetooth or in car) cell system. Much like they used to do for folks who had airbags, alarm systems, etc.

  5. - VanillaMan - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 10:33 am:

    New cars are making this issue obsolete. So, enforce the law and wait for technology to spread. I’d rather have folks using the phone through their car system than via a hand held cellular. So, enforce the law.

  6. - Skeeter - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 10:45 am:

    The civil system will fix the problem?
    Tell that to the widow and children.
    “I know you lost your husband and father, but this money will make things all better!”
    That is one of the problems with the civil system: It is inherently random and unfair. There is no way that any amount of money can replace a family member.
    The only way to address the problem is to prevent the accidents

  7. - Ghost - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 10:54 am:

    Skeeter, the law prohibitng it would not save any lives any better then the DUI laws save lives from drunk drivers. Currently a fine for talking on the phone is not useful to the family of a dead person. BUT a law that makes it per se negligience provides them a better legal position to seek compensation for the harm caused them. Increased fines will not stop the harm you are discussing, and a large fine does nothing to help the survivors.

    Look at the num ber of people who drive without insruance even though we have huge fines and zero tolerance.

  8. - Doodles - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 10:58 am:

    1. Randomly robo-call all cell phone numbers during peak driving times.
    2. Wait for the distracted-prone to crash.
    3. Remove crash debris from roads and carry on.

  9. - Poli-Sci Geek - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 11:01 am:

    Just do what the Maryland State Troopers used to do with radar detectors. When they caught you with one, they took it out of your car, rolled over it with the squad car, and then asked if you wanted it back.

  10. - Muskrat - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 11:04 am:

    I’m strongly tempted to say “skip the fines, go straight to police sniper teams,” but I’ll refrain. Tougher fines, sure, and stepped-up enforcement, but the problem is the same as with Ghost’s idea — too hard to catch people in the act, or prove they were in the act when the accident happened. I’d favor some kind of phone/car interlock system — can’t operate both at once, if it were techincally viable.

  11. - Crimefighter - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 11:12 am:

    The anti-cell usage laws shouldn’t have been passed in the first place, even the lawmakers who authored the bills are getting fined for breaking their own law.

  12. - Levois - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 11:13 am:

    Oh comeone, as much as it irritates me that people are on these phones all the time when they’re walking down the streets, driving their cars, or whereever I think these laws should be dropped. Though if you’re driving some of these cell phone users should use a bluetooth.

  13. - Ghost - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 11:23 am:

    Levois bluetooth needs to be banned too! The number of people walking around talking to themselves is irksome.

  14. - Greg - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 11:36 am:

    If safety outweighs convenience by definition, then we should also fine people for driving late at night, or on icy roads. We should also fine people who don’t buy safe cars. And now on to old people…

  15. - plutocrat03 - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 11:39 am:

    Yet another example of big brother government trying to protect us from ourselves.

    Research has been coming out that it is the talking on a phone (or intense conversations with passengers onboard) that causes the accidents, not the action of holding the phone.

    So what do we do to improve safety? Education and proper assessment of fault. e.g. if an accident occurs while a phone call was in progress then an additional ticket or fine applies.

    All laws should be reviewed periodically to see if they are achieving what has been promised. An example is the recent Virginia Department of Transportation report on the use of Red Light Cameras. According to real life data, rear end collisions increase and do not decrease to pre RLC levels over time and there is an increase in angular collisions. Is the RLC a tool that improves highway safety or degrades it? If it degrades it it should be removed. This can be applied to many other do gooder laws out there.

  16. - 312 - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 11:46 am:

    I LOVE the idea of insurance companies giving you a break if you have Bluetooth / hands free phone. Our old car had it, and I used it all the time. When we got the new one, I missed it so much I got it installed.

    I don’t agree with ’stings’ to catch drivers on phones - sometimes I need to drive someone elses car, and they may not have the handsfree system. But I can use my earpiece.

    Plus, increasing penalties if one is using their cell during an accident is wise - can it apply to pedestrians??? PLEASE?

  17. - Independent - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 11:50 am:

    Anon is right. It’s the distraction cell phone conversations cause, not whether or they’re using a handset, that is the real problem. That being said cops have their hands full without looking for cell phones. It’s becoming another unenforced law.

    I’d rather have cops look for erratic drivers. By pulling them over we will get many of those who can’t manage a cell phone while driving, as well as some drunks.

  18. - cermak_rd - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 12:00 pm:

    I don’t see a problem with keeping the law on the books even if it is largely unenforced. After all, the traffic laws, to some extent, are about ideals what we are supposed to do–make a full stop before turning right on red, drive at the posted speedlimit, make a full stop at the stop sign even though it’s 2am and the road is deserted etc. Many drivers do not always follow those laws and they can probably get away with it for a long time before getting caught. Having the law at least tells us what we should do or not do.

  19. - PE - PTOE - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 12:58 pm:

    Whether it is talking on a cell phone, reading the paper, eating, putting on makeup or shaving, distracted driving is a major cause of crashes. I have seen too many crash reports that a contributory cause was distracted driving. So slow down, keep your hands on the wheel and pay attention to the road. If you have to talk on the cell phone, pull off the road for in a safe place.

  20. - so-called "Austin Mayor" - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 1:29 pm:

    What if they rolled the talking-on-the-phone-laws into reckless driving?

    Reckless driving citations — and the subsequent insurance bumps — should cause sufficient pain in the pocketbook to curb automotive cellphone use.

    – SCAM

  21. - North of I-80 - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 1:36 pm:

    Cell phones don’t drive or steer vehicles into others, inattentive drivers do. Drop the cell phone ban but triple [or more] the fines for all moving violations. Who cares if the reason you rear-ended car in front of you was you’re drunk or drugged or asleep or distracted or on the phone. Involved in a crash + you violated any traffic law? $2000 fine will make drivers take what they’re doing seriously. Do it again and get suspended for xx months + bigger fines. We’ve all seen drivers putting on mascara while driving, juggling coffee AND a doughnut while driving….. if it’s done safely.. fine. If anything causes you to drift in + out of your lane, endangering others…. big fine. Address the problem, not a symptom of it.

  22. - YouNeverSawMe - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 2:10 pm:

    I thought governement was suppose to be THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE!??

    Apparently, the voice has spoken that they will continue to use their cell phones while they drive.

    Get RID of the law! Its not working.

    Now they are PROPOSING legislation on “spanking.” So, they think they can stop parents from rearing their children in the way they see fit?

    Its getting out of hand.

  23. - Norman - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 3:17 pm:

    This law is pointless…it’s not holding the cell phone that is causing people to get into wrecks, it’s their conversation, which they can still have with a hands free device.

    Under this concept, we should ban drinking coffee while driving, changing the radio, adjusting your review mirror…etc

  24. - Esteban - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 3:30 pm:

    If such laws deter even ONE person it is worth it.

  25. - Skeeter - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 3:36 pm:

    “Skeeter, the law prohibitng it would not save any lives any better then the DUI laws save lives from drunk drivers. Currently a fine for talking on the phone is not useful to the family of a dead person.”

    Interesting. I thought that the fear of criminal prosecution for DUI prevented a lot of people from driving drunk. If cell phone laws were enforced like DUI laws, a lot less people would talk on the phone while driving.

  26. - Skeeter - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 3:40 pm:

    You never saw me wrote:

    “So, they think they can stop parents from rearing their children in the way they see fit?”

    Sure, anybody with half of a brain (that rules out the Illinois Review crowd) knows that the government can tell parents how to raise their children. We have all sorts of reasonable laws on raising children, such as you can’t beat them to death and you can’t sell them into slavery. The fact that Illinois or Chicago would tell parents how to raise their children is not new. For most parents who don’t beat their kids, those laws seem pretty reasonable.

  27. - Justice - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 4:43 pm:

    Drop the law or show factually that cell phones specifically cause an increase in accidents. As anon mentioned above, it is the minds eye thats important while driving and that small distraction can have dire consequences. Many people are accomplished multi taskers and do well driving and talking to a passenger or talking on the phone. Some however need a license just to be out walking. As long as statistics don’t show an appreciable increase in accidents contributed to cell phones, I vote to allow them while driving. It’s good for commerce, disbursement of information, and makes commuting more enjoyable. If the proof is in that cell phone use while driving causes more accidents, increase the fines, but include eating, reading, and putting on makeup.

  28. - Trafficmatt - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 6:20 pm:

    My lifelong goal is to create IQ Sensitive Ignition Switches. Put the key in the car and if the car determines that you are an idiot, it won’t start. That, more than anything will reduce traffic accidents.

    As a former traffic engineer who has read through thousands of crash reports to determine how to fix intersections, I can clearly state that most accidents are caused by ignorance. Cell phones cause accidents if the person driving is already challenged in their ability to drive.

  29. - Way Northsider - Thursday, Nov 29, 07 @ 7:03 pm:

    They could either drop the laws or increase the fines and enforce! The only bad thing is what happens - a myriad laws are passed that are not enforced or, even worse, patchily enforced. They become an instrument for police to harass people they don’t like - usually people who don’t look like them.

  30. - The Conservative - Friday, Nov 30, 07 @ 8:03 am:

    What is the point, until we take serious that “all” drivers have a Lice. and insurance why worry about them using a phone illegally. Which is the more serious.

  31. - YouNeverSawMe - Friday, Nov 30, 07 @ 1:28 pm:

    Skeeter says:

    “For most parents who don’t beat their kids, those laws seem pretty reasonable.” ~ In regards to proposed legislation on penalties for “spanking.”

    I won’t argue that. But then it becomes a matter of defining “spanking”. And that has a lot of different variables and definitions that extend through mand different cultures, beliefs, and generations.

    I think the law has been put in place to start the conversation, but its a conversation that will get the opinion of only a select few.

  32. - Skeeter - Friday, Nov 30, 07 @ 1:47 pm:


    But you stated: “So, they think they can stop parents from rearing their children in the way they see fit?”

    I responded with “of course the government can tell people how to raise their kids.”

    There may be some debate as to that nature of reasonable and proper restriction, but there cannot be any serious debate over the fact that the goverment has the right — if not the obligation — to tell people how to raise their kids and in doing so, make sure [that’s the wrong phrase but I can’t think of a better one right now. Close enough though] that children are protected.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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