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A Dangerous Distraction -- Cell Phones

The use of cell phones while driving has recently escalated, making it one of the most hazardous distractions for all drivers, especially teens. Although the first law banning hand-held cell phones was passed in New York State in 2001, the debate wages on regarding the danger of their use behind the wheel.

Distractions, such as talking or texting on a cell phone, can cause drivers to take their eyes off the road for a few seconds, long enough to have difficulty responding to hazards and staying in their lane. These seemingly innocuous acts also can affect their mental focus. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that cell phone use behind the wheel actually reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent.

A 1997 Canadian study published in The New England Journal of Medicine used phone records to evaluate cell phone use patterns. Crash risk was found to be four times greater when drivers were using a cell phone, whether hand-held or hands-free. A more recent study using simulators published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology reported similar findings.

Although wireless technology restrictions are an important part of the recommended minimum provisions for Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws, teens are not the only drivers affected by this major distraction. After evaluating cell phone bans in North Carolina, New York and the District of Columbia, experts now recommend a wireless technology ban for ALL DRIVERS. According to their research, instituting these restrictions for drivers of all ages, not just teens, increases teen compliance with the law. If all drivers must follow the restrictions, they’re easier to enforce and publicize.

Eleven states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands have instituted a hand-held cell phone ban for all drivers. In states where passage of safety-oriented legislation can be difficult, a practical first step is to help make a wireless technology ban for teens a provision under GDL. As of July 2014, 44 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam now ban text messaging for all drivers, and an additional four states ban text messaging for novice drivers.

To learn more about your state's cell phone and texting laws, visit the GHSA website.


Cell phones are a dangerous distraction.

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