Let's see show of hands on cell phone use

I was talking to a couple of Carson City insiders who indicated that banning cell phone use while driving is unlikely to be passed during the upcoming 2009 legislative session.

It probably won't even be introduced as a bill.

A number of states have passed bans on hand-held cell phones, including California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Washington. Some of those states also have banned text messaging while driving.

The one thing the bans have in common is they still allow hands-free devices, such as Bluetooth technology.

The driving advocate group AAA believes that using a hands-free phone is no safer than using a hand-held phone.

According to a recent report by AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety, a cell phone conversation, whether with a hand-held or a hands-free cell phone, impacts reaction time because of a psychological phenomenon known as "inattentional blindness."

That means a person focusing his attention on one task will not notice an unexpected event, even if it occurs right in front of them.

The AAA report pointed to a 2003 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology that indicated drivers conversing on hands-free phones were more likely than drivers not using phones to fail to notice traffic signals. They were also "slower to respond to the brake light of the vehicle in front of them, more likely to cause rear-end crashes, and less likely to be able to recall detailed information about specific visual stimuli -- even those on which they fixated their vision -- suggesting that cell phone conversation can induce inattentional blindness in the context of driving."

Basically that means that any kind of auditory stimulus can affect how and what we see.

In its report, AAA compared this study to two recent surveys of U.S. drivers.

The surveys indicated that more than half of drivers said they talked on the phone while driving. And each survey found more than 15 percent of those motorists who used cell phones while driving did so often.

One survey found that 83 percent of the drivers felt that talking on a cell phone while driving was a problem, and yet 46 percent admitted doing so.

Interestingly, more than 60 percent felt that using a hands-free cell phone while driving was safer than using a hand-held phone.

Peter Kissinger, president of the foundation, disagreed.

"Too many Americans are driving with the false sense of security that hands-free devices are somehow safer, which could be a deadly mistake," Kissinger said. "Evidence shows that using a hands-free phone while driving impairs your reaction time to critical events and increases your crash risk about the same as if you were using a hand-held phone."

In a perfect world, motorists wouldn't be distracted by any auditory stimulus. But I don't think it's ever going to happen.

And you will have a hard time convincing me that banning hands-free cell phones will do the same amount of good as banning hand-held cell phones. At least people using hands-free cell phones have the ability to have both hands on the wheel.

And if we went that far, what other auditory stimulus bans would be next?

I can't imagine my driving time without the occasional blaring of Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" from my radio.

And what about the distracting sounds of honking horns or a police siren? Both are beyond my control and both cause me to look away from the road in front of me.

I can only imagine a car pool driver asking her passengers not to talk because the auditory stimulus would be too distracting.

And what about the global positioning systems telling us when to turn left?

Maybe there could be a ban on "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" sung by the kids during the family vacation?

Yes, there are an ever growing number of distractions in our vehicles.

Safety advocates should focus on the worst of these, the ones that take our hands off the steering wheel.

In the meantime, I will continue to hold out hope that a hand-held cell phone and text messaging ban will at least be debated during the next legislative session.

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And now for a special Sunday Hit n' Run: Intrepid Review-Journal writer Brian Haynes noticed this personalized license plate on a maroon Cadillac: GO GMEN. That means "Go New York Giants." I found this license plate quite apropos as the Giants face off against the twisted and evil Dallas Cowboys tonight.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call the Road Warrior at 387-2904, or e-mail him at roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com or fmccabe@reviewjournal.com. Please include your phone number.