Cell Phones in the Hands of Drivers
A Risk or a Benefit
10 December 2012
THESIS: Unless the risks of cell phones are shown to outweigh the benefits, we should not restrict their use in moving vehicles: instead, we should educate the public about the dangers of driving while phoning and prosecute irresponsible phone users under laws on negligent and reckless driving.
I. Scientific studies haven’t proved a link between use of cell phones and traffic accidents.
A. A study by Redelmeier and Tibshirani was not conclusive, as the researchers themselves have admitted.
B. Most states do not keep records on accidents caused by driver distractions.
C. In a survey of research on cell phones and driving. Cain and Burris report that results so far have been inconclusive.
II. The Risks of using cell phones while driving should be weighed against the benefits.
A. At the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, researchers found that the risks of driving while phoning were small compared with other driving risks.
B. There are safety, business, and personal benefits to using cell phones on the road.
III. We need to educate drivers on using cell phone responsibly and enforce laws on negligent and reckless driving.
A. Educating drivers can work
B. It is possible to enforce laws against negligent and reckless driving; in states that do not do an adequate job of enforcement, the pueblo can lobby for improvement.
Cell Phones in the Hands of Drivers:
A Risk or Benefit?
As of 2000, there were about ninety million cell phone users in the United States, with 85% of them using their phones while on the Road (Sundeen !). Because of evidence that cell phones impair drivers by distraction them, some states have considered laws restricting their use in moving vehicles. Proponents of legislation correctly point out those using phones while driving can be dangerous. The extent of the danger, however, is a matter of debate, and the benefits may outweigh the risks. Unless the risks of cell phones are shown to outweigh the benefits, we should not restrict their use in moving vehicles. Instead, we should educate the public about the dangers of driving while phoning and prosecute irresponsible phone seers under the laws on negligent and reckless driving. Assessing the risks
We have all heard horror stories about distracted drivers chatting on their cell phone. For example, in a letter to the editor, Anthony Ambrose describes being passed by another driver “who was holding a Styrofoam cup and a cigarette in one hand, and a cellular telephone in the other, and who had what appeared to be a newspaper balanced on the steering wheel- all at approximately 70 miles per hour” (128). Another driver, Peter Cohen, says that after he was rear-ended, the guilty party emerged from his vehicle still talking on the phone (127). Admittedly, some drivers do use their cell phones irresponsibly.
The dangers are real, but how extensive are they? To date there have been a few scientific reports on the relation between cell phone use and traffic accidents. In 1997, Donald Redelmeier and Robert Tibshirani studied 699 drivers who owned mobile phones and had been in accidents. The drivers, who volunteered for the study, gave the researchers detailed billing records of their phone calls. With these data, the researchers found that “the risk of a collision when using a cellular telephone was not being used” (433). Although the conclusion sounds dramatic, Redlemeier and Tibshirani caution against reading too much into it:
Our study indicates an association but not necessarily a causal relation
between the use of cellular telephones while driving and a subsequent motor vehicle collision….In addition, our study did not include serious injuries….Finally, the data do not indicate that drivers were at fault in the collisions; it may be that cellular telephones merely decrease a driver’s ability to avoid a collision caused by someone else. (457) Pointing out that cell phones have benefits as well as risks, the authors do not recommend restrictions on their use while driving.
Unfortunately, most states do not keep adequate records on the number of times phones are a factor in accidents. As of December 2000, only ten states were trying to keep such records (Sundeen 2). In addition, currently there is little scientific evidence comparing the use of cell phones with other driver distractions: fiddling with the radio, smoking, eating, putting on makeup, shaving, and so on.
Alasdair Cain and Mark Burries of the Center Urban Transportation Research surgery research on the cell phone issue as of 1999 and concluded that there is “no nationally-accredited document to prove the connection between mobile phone use and traffic accidents.” Because research results have been so inconclusive, it makes sense to wait before passing laws that might well be unnecessary.
Weighting risks and benefits
In 2000, researchers at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis found that the risk of driving while phoning were small compared with other driving risks. Whereas the cell phone user’s chance of dying are about 6 in a million per year, someone not wearing a seat belt has a risk of 49.3 per million, and someone driving a small car has a risk of 14.5 per million (3). Because of this comparatively small risk regulation of phones may not be worth the coast of the legislation as well as the additional burden such legislation would put on law enforcement officers.
In addition to the risks, there are benefits to using phones on the road. Matt Sundeen reports that drivers with cell phones place an estimated 98,000 emergency calls each day and that the phones “often reduce emergency
response times and actually save lives.” (1). The phones have business benefits too. According to transportation engineer Richard Retting, “Commuter time is no longer just for driving. As the comforts of home and the efficiency of the office creep into the automobile, it is becoming increasingly attractive as a work space” (in Kilgannon A23). Car phones also have personal benefits. A mother coming home late from work can check in with her children, a partygoer lost in a strange neighborhood can call for directions, or a teenager whose car breaks down can phone home.
Unless or until there is clear evidence of a direct link between cell phone use and traffic accidents, the government should not regulate use of cell phones while driving. A better approach is to educate the public to the dangers of driving while distracted and to enforce laws on negligent and reckless driving.
Educating drivers and enforcing laws
Educational efforts can work. In the last twenty years, government and private groups have managed to change the driving habits of Americans. Seat belts are now regularly worn, people commonly appoint designated drivers when a group is drinking, small children are almost always put in safety seats, and most drivers turn on their headlights in rainy weather.
Enforcing laws against negligent and reckless driving can also work. Even groups concerned with safety support this view. For instance, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises states to enforce their reckless and negligent driving laws and, where necessary, to strengthen those laws; it does not call for restrictions on use of the phones (United States, Dept. of Transportation). The California Highway Patrol opposed, restricting use of phones while driving, claiming that distracted drivers can already be prosecuted (Jacobs). It is possible, of course, that some states do not enforce their laws to the extent necessary. In such instances, citizens should pressure on highway patrols to step up enforcement, for without fear of prosecution many drivers will not change their behavior.
The use of cell phones while driving is probable here to stay, despite the
risks, unless future studies prove that the risks clearly outweigh the benefits. However, public safety concerns are real. To dares those concerns, we should mount a major educations campaign to educate drivers about that dangers of driving while distracted and insist that laws on negligent and reckless driving be enfaced as vigorously as possible.
Ambros, Anthony. Letter. New England Journal of Medicine 337.2 (1997): 128. Print. Cain, Alasdair, and Mark Burris. “Investigation of the Use of Mobile Phones while Driving.” Center for Urban Transportation Research. Coll. of Engineering, U of South Florida, Apr. 1999. Cohen, Peter J. Letter. New England Journal of Medicine 337.2 (1997): 127. Print. Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. “Cellular Phones and Driving: Weighing the Risks and Benefits. “Risk Perspective. President and Fellows of Harvard Coll.,July 2000. Web. 15 Mar. 2001. Jacobs, Annette. “guest Opinion: No News Laws Needed for Driver Distractions. “Wireless Week. Advantage Business Media, 24 May 1999. Web. 12 Mar. 2001. Kilgannon, Corey. “Road Warriors with Laptops.” New York Times 15 Aug. 2000: A23. Print. Redelmeier, Donald A., and Robert J. Tibshirani. “Association between Cellular-Telephone Calls and Motor Vehicle Collisions. “New England Journal of Medicine 336.7 (1997): 453-58. Print. Sundeen, Matt. “Cell Phones and Highway Safety: 2000 State Legislative Update. “National Conference of State Legislatures. Natl. Conf. of State Legislatures, Dec. 2000. Web. 11 Mar. 2001. United States of Transportation. Natl. Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “An Investigation of the Safety Implications of Wireless Communication in Vehicles.” NHTSA. Natl. Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Nov. 1997. Web. 12 Mar. 2001.