According to the 2014 edition of “Injury Facts,” the National Safety Council’s injury and fatality report, the use of cellphones causes 26 percent of car accidents in the United States. On the heels of such data, should Michigan—and other states that do not ban the use of cellphones by all drivers—consider banning cellphone use by all drivers?
National Safety Council’s Findings
The National Safety Council estimates that 245,358 car crashes involving drivers using cellphones have occurred so far this year, as reported by USA Today. Data also shows that cellphone use was involved in 350 fatal accidents in 2011. Further, cellphone use by drivers is believed to be underreported, as many drivers are unwilling to admit to using their cellphones while driving, especially if an accident results.
Many states have banned the use of handheld cellphones while driving based on the belief that handheld cellphones are more distracting than hands-free cellphones. Twelve states—plus Washington, D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands—have banned the use of these handheld devices.
While it is true that cellphone use while driving distracts drivers and increases reaction time, studies have shown that there is little difference between handheld cellphones and hands-free cellphones in this regard.
The USA Today report includes some facts and statistics from studies that debunk the myth that hands-free cellphones are safer than handheld cellphones, including the following:
- Five percent of cellphone-related accidents occur because the driver is texting, while most cellphone-related accidents involve drivers who are distracted while talking on handheld or hands-free cellphones.
- For drivers, talking can be more dangerous than texting, and talk-to-text applications do not provide a solution.
- Perhaps surprisingly, manual texting is slightly faster than the voice-to-text method.
- Driver performance is almost equally affected by manual texting and the voice-to-text method.
- According to the cognitive distraction scale—which rates different tasks according to how they affect a driver’s mental workload—driving while talking on a hands-free cellphone has a workload rating of 2.27, driving while talking on a handheld cellphone has a workload rating of 2.45, and driving while using the speech-to-text application has a workload rating of 3.06.
Michigan does not ban the use of cellphones by all drivers, though the state does ban texting while driving. The texting ban applies to all drivers, regardless of age.
Michigan does, however, ban cellphone use by new drivers. On March 28, 2013, Governor Rick Snyder signed MCL 257.602c(1), a bill that makes it illegal for drivers who hold a Level 1 or Level 2 probationary license—typically, 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds—to use a cellphone while operating a vehicle on a street or a highway.
The bill explains that the word “use” means any of the following:
- To initiate a call;
- To answer a call; or
- To listen to or engage in verbal communication through the cellphone.
That is, of course, in addition to the ban on texting for all Michigan drivers. The bill also provides a list of emergency exceptions to the ban. Violation of this law will result in a civil infraction. Michigan’s laws are a step in the right direction, and they will hopefully result in fewer cellphone-related accidents in the future. However, in light of recent findings, perhaps Michigan should consider banning all cellphone use by all drivers.
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