Keep your hands on the wheel, not the cell

February 25, 2009 05:00 am
We’ve all seen the obvious problem: A driver gets so engrossed in the cell phone at their ear that they create a hazard for others around them – ignoring traffic laws, swerving, slowing suddenly, or oblivious the other traffic or pedestrians they nearly clobbered.
 Based on common sense alone, the Oregon Legislature is considering joining six other states – including California –  in banning the use of hand-held devices while driving. The proposed bill would make hand-held cell-phone use a “primary” traffic violation, meaning that a police officer could pull over a driver based on that issue alone.
It was an idea that the Oregon Legislature considered and watered down two years ago. The compromise at that time was to make it a “secondary” offense for drivers younger than 18, meaning a police officer could only cite a teenager who was stopped for some other traffic infraction. It was a failed attempt to do “something” in the face of some public outcry.
Opponents make two arguments, both with their faults. First, studies of traffic accident reports don’t yet show cell-phone use as a significant problem. However, those accident reports are usually based on drivers’ statements: How many of us would admit that we were using a cell phone when we ran into trouble?  Second, police have written very few citations to Oregon teens under the new law. In other words, once they could cite a teen for a “primary” traffic law, they don’t add to the teen’s trouble with a “secondary” citation.
Yes, lots drivers use their “free hand” for something else: attention to food or drinks to adjusting the heater vents. But very few of those things take up as much of a driver’s attention as a cell-phone conversation.
Oregon’s streets, roads and highways will be safer if we all keep our hands off the cell phones while we’re driving. Most drivers understand that already; let’s put it on the books.