Stop cell phone use in cars

They’re out to get you, these people who talk on cell phones while driving, and it’s not just various studies that convince me every state in the union ought to pass tough laws prohibiting this selfish, reckless, life-endangering amusement. It’s the evidence of my own eyes.

Just in the past couple of weeks, I have witnessed three instances of erratic driving, taken a look at the driver and seen the person yakking away with a handheld cell phone pressed blissfully to the ear.

On the most recent occasion, I noticed in my rearview mirror that a car behind me was weaving about crazily, and then saw, when we came to a stop at a red light, that its driver was talking on his phone. That wasn’t nearly the start I had several years ago when a car came merrily zooming toward me, going the wrong way on a one-way street. The driver gave me a friendly wave of his hand as passed me within a whisker of collision. He was chattering on a cell phone and laughing up a storm.

Laughter is not my reaction to the situation or to stories on studies of this phenomenon, one telling us that an average of 10 percent of the drivers at any given time are talking on cell phones, and another indicating that their risk of being in an accident disabling to them or others is something like four times higher than it would be if they kept that phone tucked neatly away.

A study completed last year put the issue in dramatic perspective. Based largely on simulated driving exercises, it concluded that driving while talking on a cell phone is as dangerous as driving while drunk. You don’t keep your eye on what’s going on about you. You don’t hit the brakes quickly when you need to, or swerve out of the way when that’s necessary. Your reaction time is laggard to an extent that can be and sometimes is fatal, not just a nuisance or a scare.

Some note that drivers have all kinds of distractions besides cell phones, and that’s true, just as it’s true that 80 percent of auto accidents happen within seconds of a driver being distracted, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But what obviously wasn’t the case some years ago when people first started using cell phones is true today, an article on this study says: The phones are the most common distraction. Number one. Top of the list.

All of this says to me that it’s not enough that a reported four states and a number of localities have enacted laws limiting use of cell phones while driving. All states should have these laws, and, in my view, they should be as strictly enforced as drunk-driving laws and nearly as punitive — strong legal statements that you are in plenty of trouble if you get caught.

I’ve heard the contrary arguments, and they strike as essentially wrongheaded, such as the insistence that you’ve got to let people talk on cell phones because it could be necessary in case of a serious emergency. Sure. It could be. And in such an instance, do it; laws should make allowance for this. Maybe, too, a driver has a serious need to communicate with someone and it falls short of an emergency. Fine. Pull over, stop and make the call.

It’s also said that the laws can’t be enforced, but then, of course, no law is perfect in its enforcement — we still have drunk drivers on the road, even though enforcement has picked up dramatically over the years. But some people will stop using the phones simply because they always try to obey the law, and others from fear of being caught, especially if traffic cops are made to take the offense seriously. The idea that you can’t tell if someone is using a mobile phone — at least the handheld sort — is nonsense. Even with my untrained eye, I see it all the time.

We kill some 40,000 people a year on our highways. Tougher laws on cell phones can reduce the number.

(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)


  1. barak

    I was a salesman for many years in the DC-VA-MD area. I averaged over 40,000 miles a year driving, mostly (95%) work related. When we were given cell phones, without the hands-free optional equipment, I balked at using the phone if in heavy traffic. I was told to either answer the phone or find a new place to work.
    The company was Shenandoah’s Pride Dairy in Springfield, VA. It is a division of Dean Foods.
    Similar complaints about age and religious discrimination were met with “Be quiet or be gone” remarks. I finally decided that Being Gone was preferable to being dead.
    I used the hands-free earphone/microphone and found that it was just as distracting to talk “Hands-free” as it was holding the phone. I found myself drifting over to the other lanes many times until I finally just stopped answering the phone until I could pull off at the next exit and find somewhere to park and talk. Multiple lies as to why I didn’t answer the sales manager’s calls finally developed into a mutual animosity and I left the company. I had to sign a note promising not to sue for any kind of discrimination before I would be given severance pay. Makes you wonder why they asked me to sign a note like that if they weren’t discriminating in the first place.
    Cell phones are dangerous and should be banned from cars except in the hands of passengers. I haven’t heard of statistics indicating how many deaths resulted from people talking while driving. Until such figures are available, any attempts to ban phones from driver’s hands will go unattended to, in my opinion.

  2. jimmy

    I agree cellphone jockeys are dangerous and annoying. But I also see lots of cops talking on cellphones while driving these days. Will the laws also apply to them. Somehow I doubt it.

  3. yarply

    Just ban them completely. Why do we even need these things to begin with? Sure they are handy but they cause all kinds of problems also. Look at all the cell phone towers all over the place. There are so many studies out now which show many health problems from living close to cell towers, to even health problems from the phones themselves. Think of the peace and quiet we once had before them. I was down at the local gas mart the other day and some school kids came in as a group.
    They were all talking,,, but not to each other, but on their stupid little phones. The ones who were not talking on the phones had a hand in their pocket as they just stood around. (Which I assume was grasping their phone.)
    I have seen this a lot. Families will be out with each other, but what are they doing? Talking on their cells instead of each other.
    I see it driving down the road. Mom talking on the phone while the kids are talking on theirs and dad doing the same. People can’t seem to talk to each other unless it’s over the phone.
    And it seems people can’t stop talking. Talking on thoughs cells all the time. yap yap yap.
    Makes you wonder what people did before there were cell phones. I guess we had to talk to our families.

  4. RSW

    It’s worse than we think. While leaving a local supermarket recently, a woman in front of me was pushing a cart and came to a halt at the exit. It seems there was another woman in front of her who stopped, stuck a cell phone into her ear, and began to chat happily away. She finally moved out of the way, and we were able to get out of the store safely…


  5. Warren

    Must disagree. It’s a matter of training, not government interference.

    I’ve been an instrument rated private pilot for 28 years. Communicating on the radio while flying is not only safe, it’s necessary and unsafe not to do so. It’s all a matter of procedure. Pilots are taught, and flight tested, on “Fly the Airplane First.” During tests, and real experience, radio traffic is necessary right at the most complicated times of the flight. When ATC is in the middle of complicated instructions and it is otherwise necessary to Fly the Airplane First, the proper response to ATC is “stand by one.” ATC knows what it means. As “pilot in command” one has primary responsibility for the safe operation of the flight, even if means putting others on hold.

    I follow the same procedure while driving. We have entered a new age of technology where what used to apply to pilots now applies to drivers with cell phones. Drivers must be educated on when it is safe to talk on the phone while driving and when it is necessary to say “stand by one”, or the equivalent.

    This is a matter for proper education, not more government rules.


  6. ronaldbosch

    I have flown (Cessna 172) quite a bit and I must say that there is a huge difference between ATC working out flightplans and driving a car with insane people all around me who all seem to be hellbound on killing me. You really can’t compare driving and flying at all. Sorry but drivers should not be allowed to drive and talk on the phone.