logoDriving With Distraction

Jessica Lynn Vendegna

Imagine being in the passenger seat of a car on a quiet street in Atlanta.  At about 4:00 A.M. a cell phone begins to ring; then the driver reaches down to grab the phone. Within the next few moments, the driver loses control of the car.  The car wraps around a telephone poll. This isn’t a dream. In fact, it was reality for model Niki Taylor in May of 2001. According to the USA Today, Niki Taylor was seriously injured in this accident with extensive damage to her liver and abdomen.

Most people who remember this incident might not know that the cause of it was a cell-phone. This accident, however, is just one example of the dangers that are involved when someone uses their cell phone while operating a motor vehicle.

Many people just sit back and think that this could never happen to them, but have they ever thought about how well they really pay attention to the road when they are on their cell-phone?  It is proven that people talking on their cell phone cannot fully control his/her vehicle while moving stated in the Consumers Research Magazine. The use of a cell phone also can reduce the driver's physical control--one hand on the steering wheel, one hand on the phone--which reduces response capability during an emergency.

Cell phones have become increasingly popular over the years especially through college age students. Most college students cannot afford to pay a phone bill at their house or in their dorm, so they keep a cell phone to talk to friends or family back home. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drivers between the ages of 20 and 54 accounted for 81 percent of the accidents reviewed. Some 72 percent of those talking on a cell phone at the time of accident were male, 28 percent were female; among these two groups, 24 percent were professional persons and 76 percent were people just calling friends, family or just taking care of personal business. According to these statistics 76 percent are college age students, which is why, cell phone use while driving is a subject of concern.

This issue is very widely debated and commonly argued. There are many approaches people could take on this subject: safety approach, a technology approach and also an educational approach. A safety approach is defined when many states and various counties have chosen to enact laws that prohibit the use of cell phones while driving. If this law is broken, a substantial fine will be given to the violator. According to the Canarsie Courier, New York became the first state in the nation to enact a ban on the use of a hand-held cell phones while driving on all public highways except in the case of an emergency. Governor Pataki claims, “ by requiring drivers to put down their cell phones and pay attention to the road, this new law will help make our roads safer and save lives.”

Although all states have laws regarding reckless or careless driving, few have specific legislation to govern use of cell phones while driving. Currently, only California, Florida and Massachusetts impose restrictions. For example, in Massachusetts, car phones are permitted provided their use does not interfere with vehicle operation and drivers keep one hand on the wheel at all times (National Conference for State Legislatures.) But some states like California, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Texas, currently require police to include information about cell phones in accident reports. Yet, Tennessee requires some law enforcement agencies to collect data about cell phone involvement in crashes (NCSL).

This would be an example of the educational approaches states have tried to take. It has been proven that on many of the police reports talking on cell phones are not an option for the cause of the accident. If police officers ask at the scene of the accident if a cell phone was involved or are forced to include that information in a report, this would help keep better track of the statistics of car accidents that include cell phones.  At the scene of the accident every officer would have to give an additional ticket and fine to the driver if the cause was related to a cell phone.

The technology approach is another common approach to this subject. It would be the requirement of all drivers to use hands-free cell phone devices while operating a vehicle.  Like in Brooklyn, OH; Lebanon, PA; Marlboro, NJ; Brookline, MA; and Westchester County, NY; there is no fine or ticket on the driver, it is just a safety requirement for all drivers with cell phones to use headset. Other cities and states like Aspen, CO; Boca Raton, FL; Santa Monica, CA; Philadelphia, Cleveland; and Chicago IL are also considering similar requirements.

There also have been many arguments to this approach.  Many people have done studies on hands-free headsets, and they found that it is not any safer than hand held cell phones. Using a hands-free cell phone while driving still interferes with the ability to maneuver a vehicle safely, according to several new tests. In 2001, David L. Strayer of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and his colleagues reported that people talking on either hand-held or hands-free cell phones during simulated driving test, ran red lights more often and reacted more slowly to traffic signals than when not talking on a phone. No such problems occurred for drivers who either talked with a passenger or listened to the radio or to books on tape.

           In new investigations led by Strayer, 110 college students operating a driving simulator caused more rear-end collisions and reacted more slowly to vehicles braking in front of them during periods when they talked on a hands free cell phone. The worst impairments occurred while driving in heavy traffic, the researchers report in the March Journal of Experimental Psychology: applied, cell-phone conversations restricted the attention required to notice important driving cues, Strayer holds. For instance, immediately after taking simulated drives past a series of billboards, volunteers could recall fewer of the signs if they had been talking on a hands-free cell phone. Yet eye-tracking tests showed that drivers looked directly at two-thirds of the billboards, whether or not they used a cell phone.  The results of these tests would leave many people to believe that the laws that just require people to use hand-free headsets are not effective. Many people state that “if there is going to be a ban on cell phone it should be on hand-held and hand-free.”

           Many other people argue that distractions in a vehicle go far beyond cell phones. University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center said other distractions such as eating, talking, and adjusting controls on radio or CD players are far more likely to result in crashes.  Many studies have found that close to 4,600 accidents are caused each and every day by people who are distracted. That’s 30 to 40 percent of all accidents that occur are based on distractions. “ Efforts to educate drivers about the dangers of all distractions while driving would do more than a law restricting cell phone use, said Dee Yankoskie, a spokeswoman for the Cellular telecommunication & Internet Association.

Too many families have suffered the tragedy of seeing a loved one injured –sometimes fatally- in an accident caused by someone who was driving and was using a cell phone. This is a serious issue that can affect many people’s lives in many different ways.  Niki Taylor’s accident left her fighting for her life — with just a 1 in 10 chance of survival. Now, 41 operations later, she is making progress. Instead of hoping that everyone will be as lucky as Niki Taylor, we should make a change, take a stand for the safety of drivers everywhere. So the next time a cell phone is being used for conversation that is not an emergency hopefully people will think twice about what could happened. 

Work Cited


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