Like other legislative processes the campaign for and against is not complete without industry lobbyists. Do you think the telecommunications industry really wants cell phone use while driving banned? Consider these facts in light of each other:
It’s a given that millions of Americans commute to and from work each day, many of them using their cell phones somewhere along the way. What if all those consumers’ cell phones went quiet? Across the country from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and then from 5 p.m. to roughly 6 p.m. the wireless channels would fall nearly silent, wouldn’t they if wide-scale driving while using a cell phone laws were enacted? It’s likely impossible to estimate the economic loss to the cell phone industry each day if that happened.
The might of cell phone advocates is understandable given the economic fallout from potentially restrictive cell phone laws. CTIA is infamous among those on the other side of the cell phone argument—those for the side of consumer safety. Many sources cite CTIA’s Chief Executive, Tom Wheeler, as the headmaster behind cell phone advocacy.
CTIA and other lobbyists challenge the charge that cell phones cause accidents. Their major argument is that consumer education aimed at all forms of driver distraction is the fairest solution versus those that outlaw cell phone use. Part of their weaponry of words includes the supporting evidence of safety studies like the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the position of pertinent transportation safety experts.
For example, in the press bulletin that introduced the CTIA’s Wireless Wave Summer 2006, a safety campaign that targeted drivers, the CTIA quotes expert, James Sayers, Ph.D., from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. On the topic of cell phone bans, he says, “no one would legislate that you can’t eat, drink, or talk in the car,” and that outside of cell phones “there are lots of other things in the car that have negative consequences in terms of driving.”1
The CTIA strongly buoys the efforts of My Wireless Coalition, a consumer group committed to cell phone freedom, as well. The organization exposes the leading legal edge of cell phone bans, taxes, and other wireless-related regulations that, they say, impact consumer rights and freedoms.
Statistics that support education over legal action include those from a 2003 study funded by the AAA, mentioned above. The resulting report illustrated that cell phone distractions numbered well down on the list of general driver distractions that contribute to accidents. This report actually drew backlash from some consumer safety advocates.
Much of the brouhaha over the AAA results was based on distilled findings published in press releases and he-said-she-said reports, a bit like the old childhood game of “Telephone.” But the AAA had reported back in 1991 that the biggest distraction to drivers, cell phone or otherwise, was due to “complex conversations.”
Since 1991, however, hundreds of millions more cell phones are in the hands of the American driving public. If cell phones are responsible for introducing complex conversations into our driving environment why can’t we learn to “just say no”?
A growing number of states have managed to pass laws that prohibit hand-held cell phone talk while driving. Connecticut and New York drivers must use a hands-free device before dialing and while they are talking. Contrary to much of the studies we’ve seen a hands-free device still does not eliminate the distraction of a “complex conversation” and according to some consumer advocates may even encourage cell phone talk.
The CTIA and other lobbyists, including wireless providers and the like, though, have designed very proactive safety campaigns that claim “safety always comes first.” CTIA’s colorful direct marketing flyers and summertime safety campaigns attempt to head off anti-cell phone groups that conversely work to characterize them as money hungry corporate monsters. CTIA’s safety bulletins do ask drivers to set aside serious cell phone conversations and dispense with behaviors like texting while driving. Other safety tips adhere to those proposed by consumer safety advocates: save cell phones for emergencies and use a hands-free device if you must dial.
As far as industry lobbyists are concerned the studies for and against cell phone distractions are inconclusive and possibly erroneous. Many states lack the in-depth crash reports that provide evidence of driver distractions or behavior at the time of a crash. Whether or not cell phones contribute to crashes, near collisions or incidents remain murky statistics gladly embraced by the wireless industry.