What Would It Take for You Willinglly to Give Up Using Your Cell Phone in the Car?

What Would It Take for You Willinglly to Give Up Using Your Cell Phone in the Car? December 17, 2011

The headline of this New York Times article caught my eye and sped up my pulse: “U.S. Safety Board Urges Cellphone Ban for Drivers.”  They’re not talking only about handheld cellphone usage:

As part of its recommendation, the National Transportation Safety Board is urging states to ban drivers from using hands-free devices, including wireless headsets. No state now outlaws such activity, but the board said that drivers faced serious risks from talking on wireless headsets, just as they do by taking a hand off the wheel to hold a phone to their ear.

I’ll admit that my first reaction to this story was negative: Government intrusion into my private life! Once again, the government wants to limit my freedom. Don’t they have anything better to do with their time? Etc. etc.

But, as I’ve though more about this, I’ve been on the verge of repentance.

I spend most of my driving time these days on I-10 in the Texas Hill Country. Odds of hitting another car? Very low. Odds of hitting a deer? Very high.

So, here’s my question for you: What would it take for you willingly to give up using your cell phone in the car?

Let’s suppose that a nationwide ban on cell phone usage while driving would save 100 lives a year? Would you be willing to go along with it?

What if a nationwide cellphone driving ban would save 1,000 lives? Would you be happy to give it up?

I must admit that this would be hard for me. I spend most of my driving time these days traveling through the open spaces of Texas. I rarely drive in traffic. And if I’m in traffic, I almost never use my cellphone. And, no matter where I am, I almost usually use a headset when I talk on my cellphone in the car.  But, would I be willing to give up my freedom for the sake of saving lives? And if so, how many lives would it take to make me happy?

How about you?

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  • TomB

    I’d rather see people take responsibility for themselves, and not use a cell phone if they have trouble driving while using it.   If a person has an accident while driving and using a cell phone, the charge should be similar do DUI.

    I don’t use a cell phone while driving, but some people seem to do O.K. using theirs while driving.  Why make life difficult for everyone else?


  • William Lee Goff

    We Americans tend to value freedom above other values such as health, safety and civility. I have sometimes felt resentful of our California laws that restrict my cell phone use while driving.  I’ve occasionally violated it.  But I got another perspective when my brother-in-law from Russia visited us recently.  He was very impressed by the orderliness which he observed.  He saw on roads and freeways in southern California that drivers kept in their well-marked lanes, stopped at stop signs, and didn’t exceed the speed limits.  He observed drivers being polite to one another.  Clearly this was in contrast to the more chaotic driving patterns in St. Petersburg where many drivers get their licenses by bribing a government official and where police on foot can pull over a driver over at the point of their baton.  Then the police will negotiate with you the amont you must pay on the spot.   My brother-in-law had us take him to a DMV office where he could pick up the California  Driver’s Manuel so he sould study our laws. 
    All social interaction whether it be on the road or in an office, requires me to relinquish some of my freedom for the common good.  Due to the impulse of many people to pursue their personal exercise of freedom without regard to the impact on their neighbor we need laws formulted and enforced by government.
    So in California I have learned a new freedom: when my cell phone make its insistent ring while I am driving, I am free not to answer it.  Later out of my car I can decide to call back or ignore it.

  • Evan


    What you cite is the eternal battle between reasonable and effective regulation and excessive governmental overreach. It is easy to spot the extremes at both ends, but where do you draw the line?

    By way of illustration, and not intended as a snarky retort, consider aspirin or other medications. There is a danger that children will get into medications, overdose themselves and die. What would it take for you willingly to give up using your aspirin/other meds? If a nationwide ban saved 100 lives, would you do it? It is a truly serious question in most of these cases, and a reasonable answer is not always easy to arrive at.

    Consider drunk driving, which kills tens of thousands each year. Should we have nationwide prohibition to save those lives? Prohibition had very noble goals and a very practical basis: you cannot drink too much and engage in bad behaviors if there is no alcohol available.The bad behaviors will therefore disappear. But what happened when it was enacted? It simply illustrates the problem I cite (not to mention a LOT about human nature.)

    Without making this an essay on what I think effective regulation on cell phones (or anything else) should be, I wanted to note the problems. What you or I might do to stop needless death may or may not be shared by our fellow Americans.


  • Anonymous

    Bill: Thanks. I love the way you worded that: I am free not to answer it. As you know, that’s actually a very Christian way of talking about how to exercise our freedom in Christ.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment, Tom.

  • Tracy

    I have a fair bit of passion about this. Come to my house and let me show you the hole where the tree used to be that a guy drove off the road and right into. Going 35 miles an hour. No traffic. No alcohol. Summer day. He was on a cell. My 3 year old had been playing right there moments before. Let that sink in for a moment. The guy was 45, an experienced driver. Let it sink in.

    Nobody thinks THEY’RE the problem. They think they have it under control. For the sake of argument, let’s say they do — but they give license to  everybody who doesn’t, but won’t admit it.  And get real:   the research has been done. It impairs driving ability. Period. Google it. And quit with the so does the radio, so does a sneeze — let’s just get this right.

    I wish it was illegal, and I wish it was prosecuted with a hefty, hefty fine. Jail time wouldn’t bother me, until it became the social norm. No cell, no text.

    It isn’t
    A) like alcohol, at Prohibition. The trouble with Prohibition was that it was completely unenforcible. People can drink in private. They can make their own hooch. And it fostered a black market with enormous corruption and  violence. Having the highway patrol prosecute cell phone drivers is not gonna end that way. It will be like safety belts. Eventually enough people will get tickets and eventually the vast majority will decide to follow the rule.

    B) like aspirin. Aspirin can prevent pain and even death. Plus, they have child proof caps. All I’m asking for is a chld-proof cap – ish thing. No cell use while driving. That’s what I’m asking for. To protect us against ourselves.

    All I’m asking is that they make it illegal, and work on the technology to disable the things when the motor is running. Or whatever.

    And I’m asking my Christian kin to just cut it out. We are human. Things happen. My “right” to check with my husband about the grocery list should stop when it puts anybody in danger. And even if I’m the best driver in the world, my teenager will do what I do. Only worse. And so will her friend. And on and on.

    Food safety, financial regulations, driving precautions — I’m happy to cede all this to government control.

    Ask yourself: if you are sitting at the funeral for an entire family and know they died because some guy in a pickup mowed them down as they walked beside the road — are you going to cling to that freedom thing?

  • Tracy

    Mark, I’d like to add that even hands-free phones have been shown to be dangerous. http://www.driveandstayalive.com/articles%20and%20topics/crash%20causation/cell-phone-dangers.htm (And you can find this research all over the web.)

    So how is it different from having a passenger in conversation? The research suggests that passengers stop talking when driving situations become more intense, and will often alert a driver to  danger. But if you are worried about your teenager driving while in deep conversation with her passengers — join the club.

  • Anonymous

    Great comments. That’s exactly the question I’m asking. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks. Actually, there are other reasons why the brain is distracted when talking on the phone in the car rather than when talking with real people. It’s as if the cell phone conversation confuses the brain itself. There is even some evidence that the use of hands-free technology makes this worse.

  • Mel Krewall

    While I agree there is cause for concern, let’s not overdo it. From an Washington Examiner editorial:

    “Is there an epidemic of fatal crashes caused by texting and talking
    on cell phones? NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman implied as much. She
    noted that cell phones and Personal Digital Assistants are ubiquitous.
    She cited a study suggesting that 21 percent of drivers in the
    Washington, D.C. area admit to texting while driving, and she stated
    flatly that 3,000 people lost their lives last year due to texting in
    the driver’s seat.

    Is that true? No. In a detailed report on distracted driving issued
    earlier this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
    found that only 995 deaths resulted from distraction by cell phones in
    2010. The 3,000-person figure refers to all distracted driving.

    The Chicken Littles in D.C. notwithstanding, the roads are getting
    safer, not more dangerous. The number of car accident fatalities has
    been dropping steadily for decades. In 1990, 44,599 people lost their
    lives in crashes. In 2010, 32,885 were killed.”

    Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/columnists/2011/12/national-transportation-safety-board-home-road-nannies/2013941#ixzz1gzSj0EEM

    So there were 995 deaths out of 32,885 that were directly attributable to cell phone use, per NHTSA’s own study. I’m not sure that’s worth banning cell phones over. Not to mention the fact that the federal government should not even be involved in that regulation. It’s clearly a state responsibility. As another commenter said, I exercise my freedom to ignore my cell phone while driving. I just wish other drivers would exercise their freedom to not put on makeup, eat cereal, read books, and have a cigarette in one hand and a hamburger in the other (all things I’ve directly observed people doing while driving).