The Dangers of Cell Phone Use While Driving

Last December, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter signed into law a ban on texting while driving, joining 20 other states, the District of Columbia, and Guam in an attempt to prevent the increasing number of accidents caused by cell phone distraction. Six other states, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all forms of cell phone use while driving. Many people feel that this cell phone law is simply too difficult to enforce, will increase traffic stops, and waste law enforcement officers’ time. Others feel laws like this threaten an invasion of privacy. Now the National Safety Council (NSC) is weighing in.

In March 2010, the NSC released a white paper citing more than 30 studies that show cell phone use while driving is dangerous. The paper is interesting because it doesn’t support using hands-free devices in lieu of hand held phones, an alternative advised by many who speak out against cell phone use while driving, but who don’t support a complete ban. Instead, the paper states that using a cell phone at all while driving requires the brain to multitask, divides attention, causes distraction, and can thereby cause accidents.

Some people argue that talking on a cell phone is no different than talking to a passenger in the car. This is true, to a point. But a passenger in the car is seeing everything the driver sees, and when a situation arises that requires more of the driver’s attention and skill, the passenger will most likely stop talking to allow the driver to concentrate. The person on the other end of a cell phone call doesn’t have that advantage, and will continue to talk, perhaps even demanding responses when the driver needs to concentrate fully on the road.

Studies have also shown that drivers talking on cell phones have similar reaction times to drivers who are impaired by alcohol. No one argues that drinking and driving is dangerous and should be illegal, yet many people still argue that using a cell phone while driving is acceptable.

People tend to forget that when they’re driving, they’re operating a complex machine that weighs two to three thousand pounds, depending on the vehicle. All those features that were created to make driving easier, such as power steering, power brakes, and automatic transmissions belie the amount of energy it takes to power a vehicle, and the tremendous amount of force it can exert on impact. Most of the accidents traced back to cell phone distraction involve running red lights or stop signs, or simply driving into oncoming traffic, things that drivers would be much less likely to do had they not been talking or texting on cell phones.

Although the Colorado ban now in effect bans texting