Cell Phones and Distracted Driving


Cell phones have become ingrained in our culture in an amazingly short time. As a nation, we’ve become accustomed to being available to make or take calls 24/7, no matter where we are. Although the convenience of a cell phone cannot be understated, it’s time to step back a little and be more careful with our phones. 99% of the time, there really isn’t any reason to use your phone while you’re driving. If the call is that important, pull over, stop and take it then.
Studies show that using a cell phone while driving is just about as dangerous as drinking and driving, as shown graphically in this video from 20/20. Yet states have been slow to ban their use outright, with only nine states currently banning the use of hand held phones while driving and 35 more banning texting while driving. That may be changing, as the National Transportation Safety Board has recently released a FAQ sheet on the dangers of distracted driving (PDF) and is calling for a national ban. The idea of a nationwide ban is gaining traction, due partly to a study recently released by California, where traffic deaths have declined by 22% in the two years since hand held cell phone use while driving was banned.
If the ban is passed in all fifty states, how will it affect car insurance rates? Since policies vary so much from state to state, it’s difficult to say. Currently, in New York, being ticketed for cell phone use results in three violation points on your driving record, and a fine up to $100, along with other mandatory fees and surcharges up to $85. The penalties are the same for texting or e-mail use while driving, except the maximum base fine goes up to $150.
Here’s a chart of current State Cell Phone Use & Texting While Driving Laws.

Take the “texting while driving game” to see how you fare with distractions


When it comes to driving distractions like cellphones and texting, most people underestimate the danger that they pose and overestimate their own ability to multitask at the wheel. The New York Times has created a text while driving simulator, an interactive game that measures how your reaction time is affected by external distractions. Try it out and see how you do.
According to a news story accompanying this game, there is extensive research documenting the dangers of distracted driving:

“Studies say that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers, and the likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe.
A 2003 Harvard study estimated that cellphone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries.
Yet Americans have largely ignored that research. Instead, they increasingly use phones, navigation devices and even laptops to turn their cars into mobile offices, chat rooms and entertainment centers, making roads more dangerous.”

We’ve previously posted about the increasing trend of states enacting laws against cellphone use and texting while driving along with a chart of state laws banning cellphones and texting while driving.