Things I’ve seen people do while driving:
- Manage kids in the back seat
- Eat burritos, burgers, sandwiches
- Put on makeup
- Put on clothes
- Hunt for things in the car
- Hold animated conversations
- Brush teeth
- Have arguments
- Search through radio stations
- ‘Dance’ to music
- Read newspapers
…and of course, use handheld cellphones.
Out of all these things, only one of them is typically singled out for special bans by state legislatures around the country, and it’s the last one. Last week, the state of Arizona became the latest to approve a bill prohibiting handheld cellphone use while driving, a measure which got the signature of the governor just today.
And I’ve changed my mind on it.
I used to think that laws banning handheld cellphone use while driving were stupid. It didn’t make sense to me that, out of this huge list of distractions, using handheld cellphones could be any different, or worthy of special attention. Isn’t it already covered by distracted or reckless driving laws?
Here’s what changed my mind:
First, the statistics make it clear that modern-day phones – with their array of apps, functions and social utility – play a unique role in the hands of drivers today. We’re drawn to our phones for good reasons: our social networks are on there, our business is conducted there, our accessories are managed there. When our phones are not available to us, we’re off the radar. And as a result, a decent percentage of crashes are now a result of the distraction they present.
Second, the bans themselves seem to work. In a study released in February by national financial adviser ValuePenguin, Arizona was listed 12th-highest in the nation for distracted driving fatalities while more of the states that placed lower had bans. The study found a definite correlation between bans on handheld cellphone use and lower rates of distracted driving fatalities.
Honestly, though, these two points wouldn’t have been enough to convince me by themselves. Safety always has to be weighed against utility, convenience and civil liberty. If that sounds crazy, think about this: We could easily prevent almost all high-speed accidents from taking place by reducing the speed limits on all highways to 35 mph, no matter the route or distance. Yes, it would take 8 hours from Parker to Newport Beach instead of 4, but what’s a little extra time when lives are at stake? Right? So, why don’t we do this? Because we’re weighing one value we hold dear (people’s safety) against another (the value of getting where we need to go in a decent length of time). It’s just true. There are lots of examples like this.
So for me, the ban on our most important communications devices while driving would have been inappropriate if it hadn’t been for some ways to facilitate the reasonable use of them. And, in fact, there are some modern contrivances that allow the safe use of these devices while driving. The new Arizona law acknowledges their existence, saying that drivers “may engage in voice-based communication using an earpiece, headphone device or a device worn on a wrist, or voice-based communication through a portable wireless communication device” to operate their phones safely.
In other words, if you put your phone in a dashboard or windshield mount, and talk to it instead of typing on it, you’ll be safe and legal.
These three points together are ultimately what changed my mind. As someone who drives a lot, and for long distances at a time, and who works remotely and on the go, the idea that there would be no legal way to connect at all for these long periods just seems unrealistic to me. But there are safe and legal ways to use a phone while driving. (Mine: An iPhone XR paired with a pair of Beats X earphones, using Siri.) And the new ban clearly acknowledges their legality.
Back in January, the Town of Parker joined many other Arizona municipalities by enacting its own ban on handheld cellphone use while driving. This ban will now be unnecessary, but, at the time, Parker Live ran a poll to find out what our readers thought of it. 85 percent of our poll respondents (over 340 people) said they approved. So it would seem there is popular support behind these measures too.
I think I’m a safer handheld-phone-using driver than many people are Big-Mac-eating drivers, hair-brushing drivers and parenting-to-the-back-seat drivers. But because the law is clear about the legal ways I can keep in touch while en route, and because the statistics show this is an important matter, I’m all for it, especially if it really will result in fewer injuries and fatalities on Arizona roads. So I have no problem mounting my phone on the windshield, and keeping my hands on the wheel. Do you embrace it too? Let us know in the comments.
To read more about the new law, go HERE.
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John Wright is the editor of Parker Live.