When Driving, Leave That Cell Phone Alone

I’m definitely not proud of the moment I answered a phone call that I was expecting from a friend while driving to work. Before you start judging me, I did have a Bluetooth! Driving at 55 mph and just a few feet away from the intersection, I realized that the light was red. I slammed on my brakes so hard they made loud, scary, screeching noises before the car came to a halt. For the first time, I could feel my heart beating out of my chest. I think I can also say that the bicyclist next to me got quite a scare. This incident was a wake-up call that using cell phones, handheld or hands-free, are dangerous while driving!

As stated by the governor’s Highway Safety Association, no state bans all cell phone use while driving – that includes both handheld and hands-free devices. Recently, California outlawed the use of handheld cell phones and texting for all drivers. It is quite surprising that they took this long to identify cell phone use while driving as a safety hazard and ban it. Now the question is, should the use of hands-free devices be banned too? According to a study done by the psychologists at University of Utah, motorists who talk on handheld or hands-free cell phones are just as impaired as drunken drivers.

Drivers already have more than enough distractions to keep them from looking at the road. They have to eat, meddle with their GPS, find a good song on the radio and look after the kids in the backseat, just to name a few. They don’t need cell phone conversations to further distract them. As reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2008, nearly 6,000 people died and more than half a million were injured in crashes involving distracted drivers. Also, the University of Utah study proved that it is the conversation itself – not the manipulation of a handheld phone – that distracts drivers from road conditions. Bluetooth or not, it is dangerous!

Drivers think that they can multi-task but the numbers prove otherwise. According to the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, cell phone distraction results in 2,600 deaths, 330,000 injuries and 1.5 million dollars in property damage every year. Looking at these statistics, it is clear that cell phones and driving do not go together. Even though I was following the law by using a Bluetooth, I could have gotten into an accident. What if there were pedestrians crossing the street? I could have hit them in my attempt to stop the vehicle.

People behind the wheel have to realize that they are not just putting themselves at risk, but also the others on the road when they use their phones. Even with the enforced laws, it is disheartening to know that a lot of people don’t bother following them. Drivers can still be seen with cell phones glued to their ears, engrossed in their conversations. Moreover, some drivers slow down traffic because they are talking and texting. If heavier fines and stricter punishments are what it takes to decrease drivers using cell phones, then these regulations should be implemented, just as a DUI is for drinking and driving.

Another way to prevent people from using their phones while driving is by bringing about a few technological changes. Some car models enable programming of the GPS only when the car is stopped. Similar technology could be employed for cell phones. There could be a way to sense that the car is in motion, hence requiring us to stop if we need to answer a call.
It is imperative that people understand the objective of banning these devices, which is to ensure safety for everyone sharing the road. We do not want to be one of the foolish drivers others avoid. People who argue that we need to use our cell phones in case of emergencies while driving, do not worry! According to the DMV, the law permits the use of wireless phones to contact a law enforcement agency. Cell phones should only be used in true cases of emergencies. It is not worth risking your own life and the lives of others over meaningless chats with your friends.

In a nutshell, the use of cell phone, hands-free or handheld, has proven to be dangerous while driving. Statistics show that nothing good has (or can) come out of it. If you are not willing to pull over to answer a phone call or text, then it just means they are not that important! You do not want to be responsible for taking someone’s life just because of a mere phone call.

Adeline Manohar is a fourth-year public health sciences major. She can be reached at amanohar@uci.edu.