Cell phone hang-up: should there be an all-out ban on cell phone use while driving?

More and more Americans are racking up minutes as they rack up miles. About 80 percent of U.S. drivers said they use cell phones at the wheel, according to a public opinion poll by Nationwide Insurance. The National Safety Council wants to reduce that number. NSC officials say all cell phone use should be banned behind the wheel–including hands-free devices.

They cited research from the University of Utah showing that using a hands-free phone is just as risky as using a handheld one. “It’s not that your hands aren’t on the wheel,” said David Strayer, principal author of the Utah study. “It’s that your mind is not on the road.” The researchers concluded that talking on a mobile phone while driving makes you four times more likely to get into an accident–posing the same level of risk as a drunken driver. “When our friends have been drinking, we take the car keys away. It’s time to take the cell phone away,” Janet Froetscher, NSC president, told CNN.

Opponents say an all-out ban would be impractical and hard to enforce. They say people need to stay connected, and drivers just have to be smart about when and how they use their cell phones.

“We believe there can be safe, sensible, responsible [cell phone] use for a brief period of time,” John Walls, CTIA-The Wireless Association’s vice president of public affairs, told CNN. That group says cell phones have been unfairly singled out from a host of other driving distractions, such as reaching for objects, listening to the radio, personal grooming, eating, reading, and other passengers.

Current Events student reporters Betsy Potter and Sam Hotchkiss pick up the debate.

HIT THE BRAKES

There should be an all-out ban on cell phones behind the wheel because talking on a cell phone while driving causes accidents. Studies say the risk is the same as drinking and driving, which is illegal. Banning cell phone use would help ensure the safety of all drivers as well as pedestrians.

When you are talking on the phone, your brain is focused on the conversation instead of on the road, and that can easily lead to an accident.

Jeanie Johnson, of Gothenburg, Neb., says such a ban should exist. “I think that there should be an all-out ban on cell phones while driving because having a conversation distracts drivers from paying attention to the road.”

Although it may be difficult to enforce and there is much controversy surrounding the issue, I think that all cell phone use by drivers should be banned. It is clear that they pose a safety risk for drivers.

KEEP IN TOUCH

A complete ban of cell phone use while driving is unnecessary. Only six states currently ban handheld calling while driving; no state bans all types of cell phone use while driving. States should ban handheld phones before they consider banning all cell phones. More studies need to be done to prove that an all-out ban would save lives.

There are a variety of other distractions that are just as dangerous as talking on a cell phone. If you get into a heated argument with a passenger, you may end up losing control of the car. And of course, drunken drivers are a major cause of car accidents, along with inexperienced drivers.

An all-out ban on using cell phones while driving would not work. People need to just be smart.

Get Talking

Ask: Do you think all cell phones should be banned while driving? What about texting? Should other distractions be banned? Why might such bans be difficult to enforce?

Notes Behind the News

* The first law banning handheld cell phone use while driving went into effect in New York in 2001. As of October 2008, four other states–California, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Washington–plus Washington, D.C., had also banned handheld cell phones while driving. Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., have laws banning or restricting young drivers from using cell phones. California bans the use of any mobile device by drivers younger than 18–including cell phones, broadband personal communication devices, specialized mobile radio devices, and laptop computers. Driving while texting is banned in seven states–Alaska, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Washington–plus Washington, D.C. Read about state driving laws at tinyurl.com/statelaws and at tinyurl.com/drivingphones.

* The University of Utah study of 96 drivers found that cell phone users had slower reaction times than non-cellphone users. Eye-tracking studies showed that while non-cell phone users continually looked from side to side, cellphone users tended to stare straight ahead.

* The National Safety Council also cited a 2003 study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis that estimated cellphone use when driving contributes to 6 percent of crashes each year, resulting in 330,000 injuries, 12,000 of them serious and 2,600 of them fatal. The study put the estimated annual cost of cell phone-related crashes at $43 billion.

Doing More

Have students create their own rules for cell phone etiquette. When is it proper to use cell phones? When is it not?

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