I admit it, I’m guilty of talking on my cell phone while driving. I never thought twice about it. That is, until last semester, when I studied distracted driving for a class project. I learned that while I was chatting away on my iPhone, I was just as dangerous as a drunk driver with a blood alcohol content of 0.08. Believe me, I am just as attached to my phone as every other student I know, and I am tempted to use it every time I get in the car, but now I keep it out of reach while I’m at the wheel.
These are the facts:
- Using a cell phone while driving makes you 4 times as likely to crash.
- In 2009, there were 995 reported traffic deaths that were caused by drivers distracted by phones.
- Annually, crashes caused by cell phones cost the U.S. $43 billion.
Last week, the Daily Tar Heel argued against a ban on cell phone use while driving in North Carolina. The editors believe that the ban would be unenforceable and ineffective in making the roads safer, but I disagree. Those are the same arguments that critics used against drunk driving laws and seat belt laws, but now there are good quality studies showing that those were really effective policies for preventing traffic fatalities. When the U.S. implemented the 0.08 blood alcohol limit, alcohol-related traffic fatalities dropped by 7%. Seat belt laws decreased fatalities by another 5%.
I do agree with the DTH: it would be impossible to completely enforce a cell phone ban. It doesn’t matter. Policies have an impact without perfect enforcement. Will one law deter every single person from talking on the phone? No, of course not. But in public health, we think about changing populations, not individuals. If you combine that cell phone law with a mass media education campaign to explain the risks of distracted driving and a few high-profile enforcement periods with big fines, some people will decide not to make that phone call. That will bring down the risk for all of us on the road. Over time, it will become less socially acceptable to talk and drive, just like it’s become taboo to drink and drive. That’s how our roads gradually become safer places.
What do you think? Read the bill here.