The first cellular phones became available for consumer use in the mid-80s. Widespread use was not marked for almost another decade. In the early 90s less than 4.5 million people used cell phones. Over the last 15 or so years the population of cell phone users has spiked to over 230 million, according to statistics from the Insurance Information Group.
Advocates for cell phone safety dominate the swirling safety controversy. Their angle? cell phones cause accidents, some deadly; enough that there should be laws that forbid cell phone use in vehicles. Arguably, there are just as many conflicting reports that suggest it is not the cell phones themselves that pose a threat, but the distractions invited by their use. Such reports serve to support those consumer groups that cheer a more moderate stance—consumer education and safety standards that govern vehicular cell phone use.
Most safety specialists argue that the cell phone safety issue is a multi-pronged problem. cell phones pose a risk in two basic ways:
Human behavior then may be construed to be the number one danger, an attachment to cell phone use.
Beyond the distraction introduced by handling, dialing, answering, text messaging and the physical interaction with a cell phone, the larger imposition to safety is most likely the resultant conversation. cell phone conversations can take a multitude of forms, but even conversation with a passenger in your car is a distraction especially when that conversation monopolizes the driver’s thoughts or emotions.
High school Drivers’ Education class teaches that any distraction outside two hands on the wheel and eyes between road and mirrors is a distraction. Changing the radio station is a distraction. Adjusting the mirrors while driving is a distraction. Fumbling through the glove compartment is a distraction, as are adjusting climate controls, adjusting seat positions, eating fast food, drinking coffee, digging for toll money, jotting notes for the morning meeting, having a conversation with a passenger, and applying makeup. There are dozens of other distractions that most drivers engage in daily, including cell phone use, that compromise safety.
Organizations and safety agencies from the AAA to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the FCC and the National Safety Council (NSC) have conducted their own research on the topic of vehicular cell phone safety. The results are skewed dependent on the argument and the incentive.
The results depend on how you evaluate the data. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? cell phones continue to revolutionize personal communication. There is study after study. There are states that have enacted laws to limit use, but will it end car accidents? You can impose all the laws you want, but if someone wishes to pick up a cell phone while driving and use it, who’s going to stop the behavior? Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is to expect that with consumer behavior modification and additional cell phone features such as voice activated dialing, unsafe statistics will drop.