Thursday, February 22, 2007

Cell Phones and Driving

I saw the MythBusters episode a while back comparing Drunk Driving with Cell Phone driving. It didn't surprise me that the effect on the driver was very similar. I would almost argue that the Cell Phone driver was more impaired.

The MN Legislature is looking at banning Cell Phone use while driving, a measure that is in effect in many other states, New York being a prime example. As with the smoking ban, I question the need for behavior to be legislated, but unlike the smoking ban, where ALL parties have a choice in the matter, driving is different. I can't choose a cell phone free lane any more than I can choose a drunk free lane. So we have laws to protect the public good in cases where choice is limited.

Just yesterday I was almost broadsided by some kook driving erratically, weaving through traffic like they were late for their own wedding. When the dude flew by me, there was the cell phone glued to his head. I confirmed that only a few blocks away when this lunatic was forced to stop at a red light, thereby proving there is no need to fly and weave on urban streets, the lights will equal us out anyway.

In Virginia, they are starting with teens:
Under the bill, drivers ages 15, 16 and 17 would not be able to talk, send text messages or snap photos with a phone while on Virginia roads. The ban would also apply to hands-free devices but would allow teens to use a phone during an emergency.
The law has already passed their Senate, so now heads to the Governor's office for his expected signature.

Minnesota was one step ahead of Virginia, having enacted similar legislation a couple years ago. It has been in effect since January 2006:
Drivers under the age of 18 will be prohibited from talking on a cell phone while driving, except in emergencies. The law applies to those with learner’s permits and provisional licenses except in emergencies. The teenagers will not be allowed to use a wireless phone, handheld or hands free, when the vehicle is in motion, effective Jan. 1, 2006. (Art. 2, Secs. 64-65)
The author of the current legislation doesn't think an all out ban would pass, so they are pushing for an increase in consequence after the fact, if a phone was being used at the time of the infraction:
Drivers can keep dialing -- but at their own risk. Police would be able to double the fine for speeding or another moving violation if a cell phone is being used at the time of the offense. That could raise the cost of some tickets to $250, the bill's backers said.

Some lawmakers argue that the proposed law would be hard to enforce. Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said drivers would have a simple defense mechanism: "If you have an accident, you just hang up."
The shame here is not that they are trying to pass a law, it is that there are people out there who think they actually need to be on the phone while driving to begin with. Let's not wait for legislation, when you are driving drive. The Phone call can wait till later.


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