Cell phones while driving


in Law, Science

Over at Slate, William Saletan argues that cell phone use while driving is dangerous enough to warrant a ban. This is because the magnitude of distraction is comparable to an illegal level of intoxication, and because it arises from the mental effort involved in conversation, not the physical handling of a phone. As such, hands-free handsets do not address the problem.

As a cyclist who frequently rides in proximity to cars, it makes sense to me that driving and using a phone should be illegal. Drivers of cars are voluntarily undertaking an activity that poses a serious risk to the lives of others. As such, it is entirely proper to require them to conform to rules that reduce the probabilities of causing injuries and deaths. I am less sure about how the law could be effectively enforced. Technical measures are conceivable, but will always carry the risk of false positives and false negatives. Simply relying on police officers who spot offenders to issue tickets would not be very comprehensive. Can anyone think of a good way by which such a restriction could be enforced?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt July 23, 2009 at 7:08 pm

BCAA recently did a survey and 97% of respondents supported restrictions on cell phones in varying degrees for car drivers.

To answer your question about how to enforce it besides police tickets, maybe someone could put up a wall of shame type website. Of course, I don’t know the legality of this, but presumably it’s legal to photograph people in public areas (ie on the road).

BuddyRich July 23, 2009 at 7:35 pm

I read about the study mentioned in the slate article yesterday. What is even more upsetting is that a group had to sue to get the results released.

A government agency should work for the public, and the study clearly supported a ban on driving while using a cellphones, yet the agency head refused to release the results, let alone recommend a ban. Insane.

Milan July 23, 2009 at 7:37 pm

Hopefully, those taking wall of shame photos would not do so while driving.

. July 23, 2009 at 8:15 pm

“Ontario motorists will likely have until fall before it becomes illegal to use hand-held cellphones and other electronic devices like BlackBerrys and global positioning systems while at the wheel.

The Legislature unanimously passed the government’s law against “distracted driving” yesterday[april 22] but it will take several months before associated regulations are drawn up and a public education campaign launched, said Transportation Minister Jim Bradley.

Fines will be up to $500, which drivers can avoid by using a cellphone headset and voice dialing.”


Milan July 23, 2009 at 11:43 pm

This ignores the idea in the post that the distraction is from talking, not from handling phones and other devices.

To be consistent with the recommendation in the article, this law would need to ban hands-free devices, also.

Tristan July 24, 2009 at 2:48 am

I agree whole-heartedly that not banning hands free devices is a huge mistake. It doesn’t matter how you hold the phone – what’s essential is that talking to someone outside the car puts you into a mental space somewhat outside the car. Since conversations happen between people, being between yourself and someone outside the moving projectile is not a safe place for a driver to be. The reason it is safe to talk to other people in the car is that those people are in the car, so the coversation does not deport you from the situation. Even sol, when the driving gets tough I often feel the need to stop or slow the conversation.

Does anyone know of any states which have banned cell phone use in cars outright?

BuddyRich July 24, 2009 at 8:59 am

Wiki states that Israel, Japan, Portugal and Singapore all ban all cellphone use, including hands-free.


I’ve got to wonder, even short of specific legislation if an officer couldn’t stop a person for reckless driving if they are observed to be erratic. Specifically what charge could be levied?

Though to be fair are we also going to ban the radio, drinking coffee, as well as they all serve as distractions. I mean how many accidents have been caused by spilt coffee or a dropped donut? It’s a slippery slope to becoming a nanny state.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: