The House of Representatives missed an important opportunity when it rejected HB182, regarding cell phone use in cars. Its intent was to promote responsible behavior when driving and using cellular phones. It provided that drivers use ear phones or speaker phones when driving, so that both hands can remain at the wheel. It was a step in the right direction until automobile phone companies make a safer product.
The New England Journal of Medicine reported that the number of accidents involving cell phone drivers is about the same whether they are using hands-free devices or free-floating phones. One representative cited this as reason to kill the bill. The article only addresses the rate of accidents while talking on the phone and cites general inattention.
It did not, however, address the issue of having to fumble around in a purse or reach across to the passenger or back seat to retrieve a ringing phone. This of necessity means a driver will take considerably more time to find it, also taking a hand off the wheel and eyes off the road for that time.
Phones are not in the same category as other distractions because almost everyone has a phone, most use them in their cars and the phones are complex to operate.
It was ironic that while we were in the House gallery listening to the debate over this issue, we noticed signs directing that cell phones and pagers be turned off. These are an implicit admission of these devices' potential for distraction.
A The opposing legislators said that they need more studies, not anecdotal stories.
Our parents were killed because another driver was searching for and fumbling with her phone, then running a light that had been red for a substantial time. Our parents were much more than an anecdote.
Are we so locked in to illusory personal freedom that common sense can't prevail? Rigorous scientific investigation begins with anecdotal evidence. It is obvious that holding a phone to your ear impairs peripheral vision.
Momentum for this type of legislation is gaining all over the country. Several states have already enacted some sort of legislation. We hope we're not last again.
David and Catherine Hardy
Salt Lake City