Cell Phones, Driving and The Law
We are connected to the world by our smart phones more than ever before. As I drove home from work on the interstate freeway I saw a driver on one side of my car texting and a driver on the other side talking on her smart phone. Both drove at speeds less than the posted limit. I used to talk on the phone in my car until one day, after a particularly long conversation, I realized I drove over 10 miles through city traffic and had no idea where I was or how I got there. Shortly, afterward I took on a legal case where a young man sustained life altering injuries when his car was struck by another motorist who was on the phone at the time of the crash. It was a simple phone call. No texting was involved. I researched studies and experiments conducted by qualified accident reconstruction experts and what I learned scared me.
Talking on a cell phone while driving is akin to a .08 blood alcohol concentration. The cell phone user and the drunk driver are both impaired and, while their driving conduct may be different, the relative risk they create is the same. One activity is illegal while the other is not. Studies conducted by experts at the University of Utah in 2006 indicate cell phone users drive slower, are slower to resume normal speed, are slower to brake, exhibit more variation in following distances, and are more likely to crash. It does not matter whether the cell phone is hand held or hands free. It is the conversation that disengages the driver from the driving environment and causes the impairment. It goes without saying that texting is worse.
Minnesota law prohibits driving caused by alcohol impairment. Logical consistency dictates that any activity that leads to an impairment in driving equal to or greater than drunk driving should be avoided.
No state bans all cell phone use (including hands free) for all drivers despite the finding of the Utah study. Thirty seven (37) states and the District of Columbia prohibit all cell phone use for novice drivers (under the age of 18). Twenty 20 states and the District of Columbia prohibit all cell phone use by school bus drivers. Forty-two (42) states prohibit texting. Only twelve (12) states prohibit hand held cell phones and they all allow hands free cell phone usage. Minnesota prohibits texting and cell phone use by novice drivers and school bus drivers. It allows hand held cell phones.
While regulatory issues should be left to our lawmakers, clearly the safest course of conduct is to not use a smart phone for any reason while driving.