EDITORIAL: Cell phone dangers

A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, released this week, confirms what common sense should tell everybody: Text messaging mixed with driving is a dangerous and potentially deadly distraction whose risk outweighs usefulness and convenience.
Virginia Tech’s study found that texting behind the wheel is 20 to 23 times riskier than normal, safe driving.
Mississippi bars texting only by novice drivers. Our state has arguably the weakest cell-phone- use laws in the nation.
Many safety advocates like the business-focused Insurance Institute for Traffic Safety want bans on cell phone use while driving, but only a few states really have tough laws (see www.iihs.org/laws/cellphonelaws.aspx for states’ laws).
Just six states have outright bans on hand-held cell phone use while driving: California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Utah and Washington, plus the District of Columbia. Under the Utah law, no one commits an offense when speaking on a cell phone unless they are also committing some other moving violation other than speeding.
The law in six states – Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – specifically authorizes localities to ban cell phone use, but permitting cities or counties to ban use is not permitted in Mississippi. Localities also are prohibited from banning in Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Utah.
Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 14 states and the District of Columbia, the most recent law taking effect in Virginia this month.
Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which is nonpartisan, suggests that all cell phone activity be banned for newly licensed drivers because teenagers are the most active cellular phone users – four times more likely to crash than adult drivers.
The National Safety Council says the U.S. has 270 million cell phone users, and 80 percent of them talk on the phone while driving, which defines the scope the problem.
VTTI’s recommendations (based on findings from research studies):
- Driving is a visual task and non-driving activities that draw the driver’s eyes away from the roadway, such as texting and dialing, should be avoided.
- Texting should be banned in moving vehicles for all drivers.
- “Headset” cell phone use is not substantially safer than “hand-held” use because the primary risk is associated with both tasks is answering, dialing, and other tasks that require your eyes to be off the road.
- Cell phone use should be banned for newly licensed teen drivers.
A wealth of information is accumulating in support of a cell phone ban while driving. We hope momentum builds for a ban’s adoption in the 2010 legislative session.

NEMS Daily Journal