State Lawmakers Disagree About Whether to Prohibit Drivers From Using Cell Phones
Distracted driving in Colorado takes lives every year. But not all officials are convinced that traffic laws should be tougher on those who drive while using a cell phone.
Colorado is among the states where lawmakers continue to debate this issue. Recently, legislators again allowed a Senate bill to languish that would have imposed tougher legal consequences for those caught driving while distracted. Proponents of the bill say they are not giving up.
Bans in Nineteen States
Exactly what you may legally do as a driver depends on where you are driving. An obvious example is speed limits, which vary from state to state. The same is true with respect to whether you may use a cell phone or other handheld device while driving.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 220 million people subscribe to wireless service, an estimated 80 percent of whom have used their phone while driving. Zendrive, a company that analyzes the behavior of drivers, reports that nearly 50% of drivers they have surveyed admit to using their phone 10% or more of the time while driving,” classifying them as ‘Phone Addicts.'” The most active users ignore the road nearly 30% of the time they are driving. The company believes that distracted drivers have become a greater hazard than drunk drivers.
But not everyone agrees that legal sanctions will significantly reduce risky conduct. In 2012, Science Magazine reported on a study suggesting that “people who talk on their phones while driving may already be unsafe drivers who are nearly as prone to crash with or without the device.” The findings may explain why laws banning cell phone use in motor vehicles have had little impact on auto accident rates.
“Compared with people who rarely talked as they steered,” the magazine summarized, “frequent cell phone users drove faster, changed lanes more frequently, spent more time in the left lane, and engaged in more hard braking maneuvers and rapid accelerations, according to the SUV’s onboard equipment.”
“‘These are not ‘oh-my-god’ differences,’ says study leader Bryan Reimer, a human factors engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge.’ They are subtle clues indicative of more aggressive driving… It’s clear [from the scientific literature] that cell phones in and of themselves impair the ability to manage the demands of driving….’ But ‘the fundamental problem may be the behavior of the individuals willing to pick up the technology.'”
Zendrive reports that Denver is among the top ten “most distracted” cities. In Colorado as a whole, distracted driving causes about 43 vehicle crashes a day. A 2019 survey on the behavior of drivers conducted by the Colorado Department of Transportation may help explain this frequency. Most respondents admitted that within the past week, they had used a cell phone, fiddled with the radio or other entertainment devices, or read text messages while driving. These were the top distractions.
Nationally, the biggest distraction continues to be the cell phone. In 2017, 3,166 people were killed in traffic accidents involving a distracted driver. Younger people are most prone to be careless. The largest group of distracted drivers is between 20 and 29 years old; the second-largest, between 30 and 39 years old.
It is dangerous to be doing other things while driving. In normal circumstances, your sole focus should be on the road in front of you and what is going on around you.