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Should California ban hands-free cellphone use?

In 2008, the state of California banned drivers from making calls with handheld cellphones. Recently, researchers at the California Office of Traffic Safety conducted a study into the law’s effectiveness. The results were striking – while overall traffic deaths have fallen by 22 percent since the law was enacted, fatal accidents involving hand-held cellphones have dropped by 47 percent.

In the wake of this news, some have questioned whether California’s law goes far enough. They wonder whether states should also ban the use of hands-free mobile devices.

Even federal regulators are conflicted over this question. For its part, the National Transportation Safety Board says that drivers should focus on the distraction, not the device. In support of a ban on all cellphone use, the agency pointed to data showing that having a conversation on a cellphone makes a driver four times as likely to cause a car accident. This is true regardless of whether the driver is using a hand-held or a hands-free device.

However, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood disagrees. He has given the green light to devices that enable hands-free cellphone use and has said publicly that hands-free devices are “not the big problem in America.”

It’s likely that both are making valid points. But, they may be missing the bigger problem – regulations will have little effect if drivers don’t follow them. And right now, it appears that not all motorists understand just how dangerous distracted driving can be. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, American drivers are distracted 25 percent to 50 percent of the time they are behind the wheel.

If we are really going to get serious about preventing car accidents, we all need to do our part to make sure we’re practicing safe driving behaviors.

Source: The Car Connection, “True or False: Hands-Free Calls Are Safer Than Hand-Held,” Richard Read, April 26, 2012.

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