My colleague, David Melson, recently wrote a piece in which he touched upon the dangers of drivers talking on cell phones, a topic that has been alluded to on numerous blogs posted on the T-G web site.
He wrote, "Communication is good. And having constant contact with others is everywhere you go is great. But then comes that not-so-little matter of concentration .... I've almost been hit several times by drivers distracted by cell phone conversations. So have you, probably .... Maybe it's time for Tennessee to ban cell phone use while driving, as if that could actually be enforced."
As May 2007, a reported 236 million-plus Americans subscribed to cell phone plans, and it's not news that cell phones are obviously a huge distraction to drivers, and are a likely cause of far too many accidents that could have been avoided.
Two quick thoughts came to my mind after reading David's piece. Number one, banning cell phones can, quite easily, be enforced. And number two, and much more importantly, banning cell phones while driving is not a good idea.
As I've mentioned before, I was born and raised in the state of New York, the first state to pass a law (2001) banning hand-held cell phone use while driving. Since then, other states including Connecticut, New Jersey, California and the District of Columbia have joined New York by enacting jurisdiction-wide cell phone laws prohibiting drivers from driving while talking on hand-held cell phones. Many others ban cell phone use in specific situations.
I never thought it would easily be enforced, but after hearing numerous friends, and many family members complain to me over the years about having to pay $100 fine for talking on their cell phones, I'm convinced otherwise.
The problem might not be completely resolved -- some New York drivers are now more distracted by watching for cops patrolling lawbreakers than they were when they were simply talking on their cell phones before the law was passed -- but it has gotten better. Police aren't shy about issuing tickets, at all, and after about five years of paying $100 fines when caught in the act people have, in my observations, woken up to the law.
Just because they're following the law doesn't mean the law is a good thing.
I spent this past summer in New York and I was the one in my group of family and friends who most often broke the law. At first, my excuse was that I just hadn't had the five years to adjust to the law like they had. But after a few months of living up there -- and a few too many close calls with the police -- I gave up one form of T.W.D. (talking while driving) for a much worse form of T.W.D.
Texting while driving is the real danger. Texting while driving has made it difficult on the police to decide if they're pulling someone over for D.W.I. (driving while intoxicated) or texting while driving. At least when drivers are talking on there cell phones they're not looking down at mini keyboards while driving down the wrong lane heading for oncoming school buses, ditches or houses.
While the law could probably in time be enforced if Tennessee chose to pass such a law, the real issue is should the law even be considered? And, while people in Tennessee are still texting while driving, even without laws banning drivers from talking on cell phones, at least they have a choice. Anyone with a half a brain will choose to talk -- not text.
In my opinion, some things are better off unchanged. This is definitely one of those things.