Cell phones in cars make life more convenient but they can be a distraction. Driver distraction is a factor in about 4 million motor vehicle crashes in North America each year. Remarkably, we have prioritized cell phone use.
What about children in the car, specially crying infants? Children are four times more distracting than adults as passengers, and infants are eight times more distracting than adults as passengers. What about unsecured pets, or use of beverages, or cosmetics application while looking at oneself in the visor mirror? What about listening to music, a talk show, the news? And what about smoking weed in a blue cloud with a crowd and then climbing into cars and zoom, zoom.
And what are drive-throughs for if not to obtain drinks and fast food to take away in a moving vehicle and consume while moving to a destination? That requires some driver attention. We want to reduce distractions from a driver's primary task because 80% of collisions and 65% of near crashes have some form of driver inattention as a contributing factor.
It's true that cellphone distraction has a similar effect on driving, as does alcohol impairment. Distracted drivers are 3 times more likely to be in a crash than attentive drivers. Talking while driving may not be a major distraction but it does increase the risk of crashing up to 4 times. Texting increases the risk of crashing by up to 23 times. Government has taken action. We have identified cellphone use as a principal distraction and we have legislated a ban.
So, as of January 1, 2010 the use of cellphones or any handheld portable electronic devices by drivers is restricted in B.C. Drivers are not permitted to make or receive calls, send or read text messages or e-mails; cannot hold or operate any electronic device (i.e. cellphone, MP3 player, GPS Navigation System). The fine is $167 and 3 penalty points.
Drivers can use hands-free cell phones and devices if they can be used by voice activation or pressing a single button once only. But here's the rub. It was thought that using a hands-free device while driving is safer than hands on. Studies show that hands-free cellphones distract drivers the same as hand-held phones. It’s the conversation that distracts the driver – not the device. Economic losses caused by traffic collision-related health care costs and lost productivity are at least $10 billion annually. That's about 1% of Canada's GDP! (Government of Canada). Will we legislate on other causes of distraction as well? How will we monitor weed smoker’s behind the wheel?