Driving to Distraction Part II: Why Using Your Cell Phone While Driving is as Dangerous as Driving Drunk

 

Pizza box Eating While Distracted

 

After a long week of the 4 of us trading germs and taking turns being sick and a busy day of work, Dear Husband and I made the decision that we should go to a tiny, noisy, tasty, nearby pizzeria for dinner. I thought it would be fun, quick and easy. It was raining, cold and dreary outside, so I figured the pizzeria wouldn't be busy because everyone else would surely opt for delivery, right? Dear Husband agreed with my rationale, and we packed up the family and off we went for a lovely Friday night out.

 

Apparently, it had been a longer week than I had realized or the lack of sleep is beginning to catch up to me, or both, because this tiny, and I mean TINY, pizzeria has never been empty any of the previous times we have dined there, and this night was no exception; and I had apparently temporarily forgotten how my children behave in public, or private, for that matter, when asked to wait for anything longer than 1 minute. Since it was raining we could not even wait outside the tightly-packed-sardine-can-sized pizzeria or go for an energy-burning walk around the lake across the street (remember we live in the land of 10,000 lakes). So, we waited and waited and waited for our table. One thing you should know is that Dear Husband and I almost never leave a restaurant due to a long wait for a table, we are oddly patient that way, even with wriggly, loud, stomping, jabbering, crabby, cranky, impatient offspring in tow. Finally, our patience paid off. We got seated. It had only been an hour, but who's counting (we did feed the kids snacks from the emergency stash of food in the diaper bag while we waited).

 

At this point, I just wanted to order, eat and leave. I had given up on the delusional idea that I could actually enjoy the meal while chatting with Dear Husband as the little Darlings drew blasting-off space shuttles and scribbly planets on the paper tablecloth and we nibbled our pizza and gazed upon our little angels (and the cherubs painted on the ceiling don't count). Alas, we didn't even come close to this description. Let me just say that as of late I have noticed that our children have become a walking, talking, I mean, shouting, tantrum-throwing, scene-making public service announcement for birth control. I see the looks, and I really don't blame them.

 

Once at the table, the scene looked something like this: Darling 1 begins sampling the red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and parmesan on the table while Darling 2 is alternately hoisting himself out of the high chair and flailing about because he has decided it would be a better idea to sit on the bench next to me; Darling 1's already chapped lips are now burning due to the sampling of the red pepper flakes; Darling 2 begins flinging crayons in all directions; Darling 1 thinks it's a good idea to dip, which must really mean drench, his napkin in his water glass in order to cool his burning lips; Darling 2 is shrieking because Dear Husband is trying to get Darling 2 to sit on the bench with him; We order the pizza and an appetizer breadstick with marinara meant to act as a bribe to sit, eat and be quiet which the waiter promises will come out very quickly (and it did indeed arrive at the table in record time in an attempt to avoid further chaos in our corner of the restaurant); Darling 1 then reports that his "ketchup" is too spicy and that by adding a small amount of water from his cup onto his plate to mix with said spicy "ketchup" the problem will be alleviated; Darling 2 has not been bribed by the breadstick and is now trying to scale the back of the bench; I am getting desperate. I just want to enjoy my iceberg lettuce salad; I order the ultimate bribe; the waiter does not bat an eyelash: a chocolate chip cookie arrives. At last, I am able to finish my salad in peace. The reprieve does not last long though, even once the pizza arrives. Our primary goal is to eat, avoid injury (of the kids or by the kids), pay and exit swiftly. I'm not really sure if I ate 1 or 2 pieces of pizza. There were too many distractions for me to have taken notice. Parents, you know, what I speak of, right?! (Please say yes, even if you don't. It will make me feel better. And please note that this behavior is not always the norm, but sometimes it is. It's not always pretty when you have two spirited boys, ages 3.75 years and 19 months, respectively, "out on the town." On occasion it is possible to have a decent, civilized meal with my children, just not on this night.)

 

Attempting to Multi-task

 

When the brain is forced to multi-task what happens is that it doesn't give any one thing enough attention to really know and record what it is doing. My brain knows that I know how to eat pizza, pick up crayons, grab a flailing child, steady a wobbling water cup and still finish the sentence I started, but my brain is not fully comprehending the situation. I am not fully tasting my pizza, don't know how much I am eating, or if I am full yet; I am not fully engaged with my flailing Darling Child or Dear Husband with whom I am having a conversation. This is similar to what happens when you are driving your shrieking/talking/singing kids, watching traffic, looking for your exit, listening to the radio and talking on your cell phone.

In fact, a University of Utah study recently found that 97.5% of us can't drive safely while talking on the phone, even if it's hands-free. In this study, researchers assessed the performance of 200 drivers using simulated freeway driving while conducting a conversation on a hands-free phone that involved memorizing words and solving some math problems. Performance was measured in braking, reaction time, following distance, memory and math execution. The researchers found that the deterioration in performance was comparable to the impairment seen in drunk drivers. Other studies show that drivers tend to over-estimate their abilities to multi-task, but still worry about other drivers using their cell phones and being distracted while driving.

Accident-prone

Studies performed on this topic also indicate that drivers using cell phones are four times as likely to cause an accident 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. A 2003 Harvard study estimated that cell phone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries. The part that scares me is that a parent with children in the vehicle is probably tuned into the children shrieking or talking or asking for a cup, a paci, etc while also making or receiving calls and trying to pay attention to traffic.

There seems to be a common misperception regarding cell phone usage while driving. More drivers are using hands-free devices to communicate while on the road because they think it's safer than using a hand-held device. In fact, some states have laws that allow hands-free talking while driving, yet ban hand-held devices. However, research tends to indicate that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe. The problem remains the same: whether using a hand-held device or hands-free device your brain is not fully engaged in either task, unless you are one of the 2.5% "supertaskers" in the population. And let's face it, parents are great at multi-tasking by necessity and we all like to think that we can do 3 or 4 things at one time, but 2.5% is not a very large number of the population.

 

While cell phone companies, electronic technology developers and auto makers acknowledge that it is dangerous to multi-task while driving, they don't support any legislation that limits usage of cell phones or other devices while driving. In fact, those companies continue to aggressively develop new technology that can be used anywhere and anytime. The mighty dollar speaks louder than common sense and consumer safety.

 

Laws Limiting Cell Phone Usage While Driving

 

There are 31 U.S. jurisdictions with laws that limit cell-phone usage in some circumstance or by some drivers. There are no U.S. jurisdictions that totally ban all cell phone usage by all drivers. There are 8 U.S. jurisdictions that allow only hands-free cell phone usage while driving. Interestingly, more U.S. jurisdictions have laws banning texting while driving. Presumably, it makes more sense to people to ban this practice since texting means the driver is taking his or her eyes off the road, while talking is something you can do while driving, especially if using a hands-free device.

While most of the cell phone usage laws are primary enforcement laws, meaning an officer may cite a driver for using a cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place, many law enforcement officers don't enforce these laws. In fact, even after an accident has occurred, police in almost half of all states make no attempt to gather data on this practice. They are not required to ask drivers who cause accidents whether they were distracted by a phone or other device. Of course, even if law enforcement officers do ask, that doesn't mean drivers are honest about it.

Many states are beginning to include a category for cell phone/electronic equipment distraction on police accident report forms, and recently proposed federal legislation would require states to collect this data in order to qualify for certain federal funding.

Here is the table of states that have laws that limit cell phone usage while driving to some degree.

 

AL

All cell phone ban for drivers 16 and 17 year-olds with Intermediate License less than 6 months (Eff. 7/10)

AZ

All cell phone ban for School Bus Drivers

AR

Hand-held ban for 18 -20 year-old drivers; all cell phone ban for school bus drivers and drivers younger than 18

CA

Hand-held ban for all drivers; all cell phone ban for school bus drivers and drivers younger than 18

CO

All cell phone ban for drivers younger than 18

CT

Hand-held ban for all drivers; all cell phone ban for school bus drivers and drivers with a Learner's Permit and drivers younger than 18

DE

All cell phone ban for school bus drivers and drivers with a Learner's Permit and Intermediate License

DC

Hand-held ban for all drivers; all cell phone ban for school bus drivers and driver's with a Learner's Permit

GA

All cell phone ban for school bus drivers

IL

All cell phone ban for all drivers in school zones and highway construction zones; all cell phone ban for school bus drivers and drivers younger than 19

IN

All cell phone ban for drivers younger than 18

IA

All cell phone ban for drivers with a Restricted or Intermediate Licenses

KS

All cell phone ban for drivers with a Learner's Permit or Intermediate Licenses

KY

All cell phone ban for school bus drivers and drivers younger than 18

LA

All cell phone ban for school drivers and all novice drivers

ME

All cell phone ban for drivers younger than 18; There is also a law that makes it illegal to drive while distracted

MD

All cell phone ban for drivers younger than 18 with a Learner's or Provisional License

MA

All cell phone ban for school bus drivers

MN

All cell phone ban for school bus drivers and drivers younger than 18 with a Learner's or Provisional License

NE

All cell phone ban for drivers younger than 18 with a Learner's or Provisional License

NH

It is illegal to drive while distracted, in general

NJ

Hand-held ban for all drivers; All cell phone ban for school bus drivers and drivers younger than 21 with GDL or Provisional License

NM

Hand-held ban for state vehicles

NY

Hand-held ban for all drivers

NC

All cell phone ban for school bus drivers and drivers younger than 18

OR

Hand-held ban for all drivers; all cell phone ban for drivers younger than 18

RI

All cell phone ban for school bus drivers and drivers younger than 18

TN

All cell phone ban for school bus drivers and drivers with a Learner's or Intermediate License

TX

Hand-held ban for all drivers while in school zones; all cell phone ban for school bus drivers with passengers 17 or younger and drivers in the Intermediate Stage, in the first 12 months

VA

All cell phone ban for school bus drivers and drivers younger than 18

WA

Hand-held ban for all drivers (EFF. 6/10); all cell phone ban for drivers with a Learner's Permit or Intermediate Stage (EFF. 6/10)

WV

All cell phone ban for drivers with a Learner's Permit or Intermediate Stage

 

Sources: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and State Highway Safety Offices.

http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html

 

The Bad Habit

 

I am guilty of this habit. I use my cell phone while driving. It's the only chance I have to use the phone while my kids are strapped down (in their car seats). It feels like empty time that I can fill while driving. In reality, I know I should not. It's a habit I need to stop. Using a cell phone while driving has become such a convenience in our fast-paced society and multi-tasking seems like a must in order to use one's time efficiently. Because of these factors, I think that legislators are hesitant to pass total bans on cell phone usage while operating a vehicle. However, I also think this is an area of law that will continue to be fleshed out as the studies and statistics continue to decry this habit. The numbers don't lie.

 

The Scoop

 

How do you feel about this topic? Do you use your cell phone will driving? If so, do you plan to stop or are you of the 2.5% who can truly multi-task? If not, why not? Please leave me a comment here, on Facebook or Twitter. Or you can always send me an email at motherlylaw@yahoo.com. On Wednesday, I will provide you with some great websites on safe driving and tips about how to be a fully engaged, safe driver. Over and out…

 

Anna

www.MotherlyLaw.com

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