Ban distracted driving, not cautious conversation

In a report issued last week, the Congressionally chartered National Safety Council urged federal lawmakers to pass a ban on any and all cell phone usage while driving. The recommendation doesn’t come without clout, either. The NSC was one of the largest proponents of tougher drinking and driving laws that have become the norm over the last 20 years.


Currently six states have laws banning cell phone usage on the road in some form or another and in Dearborn, drivers can be hit with a secondary offense if they commit a traffic infraction while blabbing into a hand-held phone.


But nowhere in the United States is there a total ban on chatting and driving, with all current laws allowing for hands-free devices. We believe it should stay that way.


While there is little debate that hand-held phones can be a distraction, the assertion that hands-free devices are just as dangerous is, at best, sketchy. To make the case against hands-free phones, the NSC cited a 2006 University of Utah study that tested 40 volunteer drivers under four scenarios: with no distractions, on a hand-held phone, on a hands-free phone and intoxicated to the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08 percent.


The study concluded that the three latter scenarios produced very similar results. While we don’t question the veracity of the study, a sample group of 40 college students in Utah is hardly representative of the more than 200 million cell phone users in the United States. Thus it should not be used as the inciting evidence for far-reaching federal legislation.


It also raises the question, if it is so distracting to talk while driving, should we outlaw driver-passenger conversations? The NSC says no, and that the presence of another person in the car, watching the road and sharing a vested interest in safety with the driver helps to curb the distraction effect. This hardly seems like an objective statement of fact.


In essence, the case against hands-free phones amounts to a case of rotting bologna – it stinks and should raise an eyebrow. Doing anything other than absolutely focusing on the road can be considered a distraction. But let’s not reduce ourselves to becoming single-minded automatons capable of computing only one task at a time.


let’s recognize that we’re a nation of multitaskers with not enough hours in the day. Sure, Americans got along just fine before cell phones, but as the technology has grown, society has adjusted accordingly. Our economy is as dependent on connectivity as it is financing, and every single day, millions of Americans rely on the efficiency and productivity the cell phone offers. It just so happens that sometimes that coincides with a trip down I-94.


It was Henry Ford, perhaps efficiency’s greatest proponent, who said, “Most people get ahead while others waste time.” Hopefully our leaders in Washington will consider this before moving on legislation that seriously could hinder our ability to stay connected and get ahead.