S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Sept. 24, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.0924.phone.htm

Ausband's passing leaves hole

S.C. Statehouse Report editor Jerry Ausband passed away Sept. 16. We're deeply saddened over his loss and miss his wit, wise counsel and professionalism.

Jerry Cox Ausband, 1937-2006, Rest in Peace.

Taking a look at using cell phones
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

SEPT. 24, 2006 - - Cellular telephones are as ubiquitous in modern American society as hamburgers, apple pie and bad television shows. Some 200 million Americans have cell phones, according to studies.

In the next South Carolina legislative session, there's a good chance state lawmakers will look at ways to restrict cell phone usage when people are driving, predicts state Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens.

"People are getting more and more aggravated in what they perceive as inattention to driving" from people using cell phones on the highway, he said.

But he admitted, cell phone usage while driving is a two-edged sword: For some, it may serve as a distraction and be a contributing cause to accidents. But for many, it is a necessary convenience because it helps people stay in contact better and allows them to work more efficiently.

So far, the District of Columbia and four states, including California earlier this month, have banned use of cell phones in cars unless drivers are using hands-free devices, such as headsets. Lawmakers in those states curbed use of hand-held phones in cars generally because of concerns of driver distraction, inattention and unsafe driving behaviors, such as tail-gating.

A highly-publicized June study highlighted how drivers using cell phones in traffic posed five times the risk of getting in an accident. More surprisingly, their driving behavior was more dangerous than driving drunk, the study said.

"As a society, we have agreed on not tolerating the risk associated with drunk driving," University of Utah researcher Frank Drews told HealthDay News. "This study shows us that somebody who is conversing on a cell phone is exposing him or herself and others to a similar risk -- cell phones actually are a higher risk."

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration also says it's risky to talk on the phone while driving: "Research shows that driving while using a cell phone can pose a serious cognitive distraction and degrade driver performance," according to its Web site. "The data are insufficient to quantify crashes caused by cell phone use specifically, but NHTSA estimates that driver distraction from all sources contributes to 25 percent of all police-reported traffic crashes."


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It's easy to see how talking on a phone while driving could pose problems. Instead of paying full attention to driving conditions, you might be listening to a fine point of somebody's conversation. Instead of driving defensively, you might be looking away from the road and dialing.

But it's just as important to keep in mind there are other distractions drivers face constantly. They might be just as distracted due to an animated conversation with somebody in the passenger seat. Or they could be eating. Or they could spill hot coffee in their lap.

In 2005, some S.C. lawmakers offered three bills to curb use of cell phones in cars. Two of the bills targeted young drivers, who reportedly engage in riskier behaviors when talking on the phone and driving. None of the bills received serious consideration.

But Martin says he's asking state highway officials for statistics to see if cell phone use in vehicles can be linked in any way to more accidents.

Anecdotally, he says he's heard several stories of accidents caused in part while drivers were on the phone. But before taking any legislative steps, he wants to see some data.

In fact, there's already a law on the books which allows police to charge drivers with "distracted driving." That law, he noted, might be applicable to risky cell phone use.

Perhaps all that is needed to make state roads safer from drivers who engage in risky behaviors is to enforce what's currently the law regardless of whether they're talking on the phone, yelling at a kid in the backseat or focusing more on the food they're eating than the highway.

Send your comments to Andy Brack at brack@statehousereport.com. His book of commentary, Bugging the Palmettos, is available for $15.00. Click here for more.

Recent commentary

lighter side
9/24: Don't eat your spinach

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:

9/18: Historically black colleges prepare students

To the editor:

Thank you for the article on SCSU. (Commentary, 8/27) It is and has been a great institution of higher learning for African American students and has been regarded as such in the African American community in SC.

Many employers do not feel that black colleges and universities prepare their students academically (I've actually heard managers make this statement in one of my previous positions). I hope this will change this perception and give black colleges and universities their just dues. Several of my family members and friends have done well as graduates of a HBCU (historically black colleges and universities.) HBCUs need more of this kind of publicity.

-- Doris Starkes, Arlington, Va.

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