If you’re a young adult, talking on a cell phone while driving will make you drive as though you were 70. So says a new study conducted by the University of Utah. “"It's like instant aging,” said author of the report David Strayer.
Most people have always assumed that talking on a cell phone while driving makes you a worse driver. This is one of the first studies that prove it. In fact, the Strayer study said cell phone use actually makes you less responsive than driving while legally drunk, with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent.
What is somewhat surprising is that using a hands free device made no difference. Being actively part of a conversation is apparently what causes the increase in driver response time. So it’s not really cell phones, per se, that are the culprits; it’s talking.
Advocates who are pushing for a ban on cell phone usage while driving are using the Utah study as ammunition to push their cause through state legislatures. But before governmental bodies respond with knee-jerk reactions, it might be prudent to determine just what the risks of using cell phones really are.
The study showed a driver talking on a cell phone was 18 percent slower in breaking. But that is measured in milliseconds. Although a few milliseconds might be enough to cause an accident, there really isn’t very much of an increase in reaction time because of cell phone usage.
There may be other driving distractions that have an even greater impact, but which nobody is pushing to ban. For example, if talking causes an increase in reaction time, does listening?
If you are heavily engaged in listening to your favorite song on the radio are you more likely to have an accident? If so, maybe radios should be banned from cars.
Does hauling children around cause enough of a distraction that accidents are more likely to happen? If so, maybe there should be a law against kids riding in cars.
Certainly smoking a cigarette while driving is one of the worst offenders in causing distractions. Why are there no advocacy groups demanding a ban on smoking and driving?
And if it is the conversation itself, not the cell phone, then perhaps it should be against the law to talk and drive.
The study showed that young drivers are instantly aged by using cell phones. Yet there is no law against a 70-year-old driving. If fact, older people do not show an increase in their reaction time as a result of cell phone usage; only younger drivers are affected.
It’s true that cell phone usage is something that is best done while not driving. Anything that causes a distraction might lead to an increased risk of having an accident. But that doesn’t mean there should be a law against it. It should be left up to people’s common sense.
The best way to avoid a traffic accident is to drive defensively. Drive under the assumption that every other driver on the road is an idiot that you have to avoid running into. And be patient. Don’t be one of those aggressive drivers that are always in a hurry.
The cautious driver will avoid using cell phones as much as is feasible while driving. But there may be some cases in which time and convenience warrants a slight increase in accident risk, especially if the driver is otherwise undistracted.
We have enough laws that limit personal freedoms, such as the seat belt laws. We don’t need another one.