OPINION: Cell Phone Ban Beaten For Ninth Time

By Maryland Senator Roy Dyson (D-29)

Most of us have experienced the anxiety and apprehension that comes from driving behind a driver using a cell phone. The car's speed goes up and down. The car might weave from side to side. Usually, the stops are sudden. It's the all too often erratic driving pattern of the cell phone user.

The driving is erratic because the driver is deep in cell phone conversation - talking and listening and certainly not giving full attention to driving.

Whether hand-held or hands-free, cell phone use is a driving distraction. The AAA Foundation notes that drivers talking on a hands-free cell phone are still distracted by the conversation and have to use their hands to dial or pick up the phone. According to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety, 30% of accidents are caused by driver distraction.

Granted, cell phone use is only one of many driving distractions, including eating, listening to the radio or putting a CD in the slot. But the fact remains; cell phone use is a major distraction and a cause of automobile accidents and fatalities. Last year, a car full of young women was killed because the driver was talking on a cell phone.

Yes, it's annoying to be told that, as adults, we are not allowed to use our cell phones while driving. It's big government playing nanny again. However, we must face the fact, that although a driver cell phone ban may be all those things, it is also a public safety measure. Nevertheless, the Maryland General Assembly killed the cell phone ban for the ninth consecutive year. Current law prohibits only holders of a learner's instructional permit or provisional driver's license who are under age 18 from using cell phones.

Several studies have proven that cell phone use is a dangerous driving distraction. A 2006 study of real world behavior, conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, concluded that the most common distraction for drivers is cell phone use. A 2005 study published in the British Medical Journal revealed that drivers who use cell phones are four times more likely to be involved in a vehicle crash.

Equally frightening, a 2004 University of Utah study of young drivers found that their response time slowed significantly when using cell phones, so much so, that drivers younger than 21 were found to have the reaction time of drivers 65 to 74 years old.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 28 states and the District of Columbia have laws restricting the use of wireless devices in motor vehicles. Laws in California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of hand-held phones by all drivers while operating a motor vehicle.

In clear acknowledgment that cell phone use diverts a driver's attention, 14 states prohibit the operators of school vehicles that carry passengers from using a wireless telephone device while driving. Those states are: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas and the District of Columbia.

Today, there are increased and multiple distractions on drivers' attention, such as on-board navigation systems and television monitors. One can only hope that Maryland will take a positive step in the direction of traffic safety and prohibit cell phone use while driving.

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