Drivers on cell phones: Debate heats up

After hearing about the circumstances of the deaths of a father and his two-year-old daughter at a railway crossing in Ontario, a coroner’s jury recommended the provincial government consider a total ban on cell phones while driving.The father was on his cell phone and failed to notice the warning signals and stop his pick-up truck as a freight train approached.Richard Schewe, 31, and his daugher, Mikaela, died in early May.  

The jury made its recommendation in mid-September. Coincidently, a private member’s bill on the issue is due for a second reading in the Ontario Legislature in October.

Cell phones banned
Other jurisdictions already banning cell phones include New York state and the Republic of Ireland. Newfoundland is about to introduce a ban on hand held cell phones.

In Britain, where it’s estimated 75 per cent of all adults own cell phones, the government is testing public sentiment for a ban while driving through public consultations. These end in October.

Reaction time slowed
Earlier this year, a British study said talking on a cell phone whi driving is more dangerous than driving drunk.

Researchers studied the effects of using a hand-held phone, a hands-free phone and being legally impaired.

They found drivers talking on a hand-held phone reacted 30 per cent more slowly than impaired drivers—and 50 per cent more slowly than drivers not impaired.

That means a driver with a hand-held cell phone going at 110 kilometres an hour travels an additional 45 meters before reacting to a road hazard, compared to a driver not using a phone.

Missed road warnings
Drivers with cell phones—either hand-held or hands-free—were also less able to maintain a constant speed and keep a safe distance from the car in front.

They also missed significantly more road warning signs than drunk drivers.

Scientists at the United Kingdom’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) conducted the test using a panel of volunteers and a sophisticated driving simulator. The prominent U.K. auto insurance company, Direct Line, commissioned the test after a survey found that four out of ten drivers admit to using a cell phone while behind the wheel.
More dangerous
Dominic Burch, Direct Line’s road safety campaign manager, said, “Drunk driving is clearly an established danger in the eyes of drivers. In effect, this means that 10 million UK drivers are partaking in a driving activity that is potentially more dangerous than being drunk.”

In the United States, recent research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that driver distractions contribute to one in four automobile collisions. 

Next page: Talking causes distraction

Talking causes distraction
According to the U.S. National Safety Council, driver distraction due to phone calls occurs with both hand held and hands free phones.
The Council also stated that driver distraction with phone calls is far greater than listening to the radio or audio books. That’s because actively engaging in conversation leads to higher levels of driver distraction.

Industry offers pointers
The wireless industry has argued that cell phones in cars can be safely used, if certain guidelines, are respected:

  • If your cell phone rings, ask your passenger to answer it
  • If you are alone, let the call go to voicemail
  • Dial only when stopped or have a passenger dial for you
  • Don’t have stressful or emotional conversations that may divert your attention from the road
  • Program frequently called numbers into your phone’s speed dialer for one-touch dialing
  • Never take notes while driving. Pull off the road if you need to write something down.

Says education best
“Simply having laws that ban cell phones is not getting to the root of the problem. It’s not clear to us that people will obey these laws. If the government says it feels it must ban cell phones in cars, we’re not going to oppose that, but we think a better approach is to put efforts into education and that’s what we’re doing,” says Roger Poirier, Vice President of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.

The CWTA also states that cell phones in cars play a useful role: “In Canada alone, nearly three million calls per year are made to 911 or emergency numbers using a wireless phone”. These ‘Wireless Samaritans’ report crimes, emergencies, accidents and drunk drivers.”