Tragedy Creates Legal Momentum
In the last decade, all types of organizations, both public and private, have pushed for increased cell phone safety measures when it comes to driving. Everyone has a cell phone it seems and the device portability makes it convenient for use almost anywhere. In a multitasking nation it makes perfect sense that few people would give a second thought to dialing their cell phone while driving. There are plenty more distractions drivers engage in already, what’s one more?
In 1990 there were over 4 million cell phone users, but by early 2007 that number increased to over 236 million.1 A sample of cell phone users by Nationwide Insurance showed that an alarming 73% admitted to using their cell phones while driving.
Some critics of cell phone bans argue that the ubiquity of cell phones has earned them the bad rap. Talking on a cell phone isn’t any more dangerous than eating a burger, arguing with your kids, or fumbling through your CDs, right?
Visible Consumer Safety Advocates
Consumer cell phone safety advocates are often visible and vocal. Their incentive is often rooted in personal tragedy and their message an effective appeal. Interests such as these are instrumental in leveraging lawmakers to change driver behavior.
- The Morgan Lee Organization is a visible reminder of cell phone distraction. The organization is an offshoot of the Partnership for Safe Driving. MorganLee.org is dedicated to the memory of a two-year old girl who was killed when a driver missed a stop sign because he was using his cell phone. The organization’s mantra is “Drive Now, Talk Later,” and their story is compelling. The site collates current cell phone safety debate, links to recent studies, and information on state-by-state legislation.
- The very well-known Car Talk guys from National Public Radio fame have a huge following of fans, from serious car buffs to cult audiences that thrive on their thick Boston accents, Yankee candor, and energetic repartee. Mother of Morgan Lee (see above) enlisted the help of Car Talk. Already the opinionated duo was anti-cell phone so when the Morgan Lee story came to their attention their emphasis on cell phone safety increased. The Car Talk website includes a fiery rebuke to the AAA over cell phone safety statistics, and a Driver Distraction Zone where visitors can pick up tips and links.
- Advocates for cell phone Safety, also sponsored by the Partnership for Safe Driving, is a non-profit organization inspired by the loss of two teenage girls. In 2002 the pair were killed in car accident in which the other driver was distracted with a cell phone. The website tells the family story, provides links for other victims, a cogent argument in favor of strict cell phone control, and a search tool for recent state by state legislation.
- The National Safety Council (NSC) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “educate and influence people to prevent accidental injury and death.” The NSC takes on all types of safety issues relevant to the individual and their world, cell phone driving safety is just one of them. The NSC’s stance on the use of cell phones while driving is conservative. Laws which limit use of cell phones except when using a hands-free device do little, the NSC says, to undercut collision dangers. The NSC’s rationale is on board with a study by the University of Utah that concluded the dangers in cell phone use are the conversational element. Drivers that would otherwise be alone and not distracted by talk, often choose to introduce conversation into their environment via cell phone. Depending on the context of that conversation the level of driver distraction is debatable. The more emotional the conversation, the more distracted.
Tragic Stories Win Legislation and Policy Changes
Consumer advocates argue rather convincingly that the sheer numbers of cell phones increase distractions exponentially. Studies are mixed on real crash statistics and measurement of driver distraction can only be based on guesswork in most cases. Nevertheless tragic stories of personal loss due to driver cell phone distraction are winning vocal groups legislative momentum. Four states have tough laws that make manual use of a cell phone illegal. And hundreds of companies, both large and small, have added comprehensive cell phone safety policies to employee operations.
- “cell phones and Driving,” Insurance Information Institute, May 2007, http://www.iii.org/media/hottopics/insurance/cellphones/