Maryland has banned the use of handheld cell phones while driving. Obviously, this includes texting, but it also applies to holding a cell phone up to your ear while you talk.
I’m glad we have this law. It makes sense that you have both hands to drive and react to emergencies. Right? It does not take a Rhodes Scholar to figure this out.
Yet there is no science that I have seen to support this premise. In fact, studies seem to show the exact opposite. One of the best studies on this is an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study titled, “Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile.” The study measured brain activity and assessed indicators of driving performance under different types of distracted driving. The study concluded that drivers are not attentive just because they have their eyes on the road and their hands in their hands positioned at 9 and 3 o’clock on the steering wheel.
Instead, the biggest variable in attentiveness is the level of cognitive burden placed on the driver that reduces the mental energy we have to focus. Unfocused drivers, for whatever reason, miss crucial evidence of danger and have slower reaction times. So the driving force of risk is the level of distraction. From this, it is reasonable to infer that an engrossing conversation on hands-free might be a great risk than a meandering one holding a cell phone.
The logic of all of this extends beyond just cell phones. Voice-activated technology is an enormous distraction, particularly for people like me who really do not know how to use it properly, so you are spending an inordinate amount of time trying to look down to see if your commands are working. To a point, modern cars keep us in check by limiting our ability to use technology while we are moving. My wife cannot direct the GPS even from the passenger seat while my car is moving.
My Proposed Solution
I think we need a free-market solution to this problem. Libertarians are rising up in this country, evidenced by the fact that Rand Paul is now being taken seriously as a presidential candidate. It will be near impossible to get “no cell phone use, no voice-activated phone technology in the car” laws through the Maryland legislature and signed by Governor Hogan.
So what can be done? I think we need the insurance companies on this one. Yes, I hate insurance companies, but they are on the right side of customer safety issues. So why not mandate the use of an app that shuts down your cell phone if you want to get a deeply discounted rate on insurance? I think the government could step in and subsidize the difference in the price even further, but that is probably a bridge too far for most people. There are already apps available that do exactly this. Why can’t GEICO make up their own app?
Would people come up with tricks to fool the insurance company into thinking they were not talking and driving? Sure. But the insurance companies would find new technologies to catch the cheaters, and the technology would advance. Even if they didn’t, most people would play it straight and, if these studies are right, it would save thousands of lives.