Mobile phone use is an easily avoidable cause of many automobile accidents
Distracted driving is a major issue in the United States and must be addressed, starting with prohibiting drivers from using cellphones in cars. And Maryland did just that. As of Oct. 1, drivers can be penalized for using handheld mobile phones. At present, 12 states and Washington, D.C. have adopted this law but there's no reason this number shouldn't be higher.
Every year in America, an estimated 1.6 million car crashes involve a driver holding a cellphone. With such a high number, it is appalling that 38 states still allow motorists to put themselves and, more importantly, others in jeopardy simply to maximize their personal convenience.
While elevating security over personal liberty is always a slippery slope, the eminent American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes put it well: "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." Drivers distracted by handheld cellphones are aiming their lethal vehicles at another driver's life, which minimizes others' right to life. Maryland's law does not forbid hand-free use of mobile phones through wired or wireless earpieces, so those who must talk on the road are able to do so. While data are not conclusive on whether Bluetooth headsets actually make driving safer, freeing up the motorist's hands is a good place to start.
The Maryland General Assembly, aware that there are emergency situations in which a cellphone might be necessary, permitted drivers to dial or text 9-1-1. With that single exception, however, using a mobile phone is now a primary offense, which can lead to fines starting at $110 and going up to $175 for repeat offenders.
The risks associated with distracted driving are monumental—it accounts for over 3000 deaths among the more than 1.6 million accidents attributed to cellphones each year. According to the National Safety Council, motorists using mobiles fail to see 50 percent of their surroundings—often including bikers and pedestrians—so it's no wonder why phones are involved in one in four motor vehicle crashes.
Authorities preach the dangers of drunk driving and seldom the hazard of losing focus on the road. Yet a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that drivers texting are six times more likely to crash than those intoxicated.
It is true that talking to passengers, eating and eyeing the rear view mirror to brush your hair are also distracting activities in the car. But that's no reason to neglect taking action over risky cellphone use. The evidence is overwhelming that driving while operating a handheld device makes crashes, injuries and fatalities substantially more likely. Banning drivers from using mobile phones will not make the roads perfectly safe, but is an important step forward in making them much more secure than they are right now.
Ross Cohen-Kristiansen. More »