Distractive driving

The biggest roadblock to a townwide ban on motorists using cell phones while driving seems to be the issue of enforcement.

The Town Council learned Monday night that any cell phone law it passed would be very difficult to enforce. It’s not just that an officer would have to see someone using a cell phone while that person swerved or crossed the center line. Anyone who was stopped for suspicion of using a cell phone would just claim to have been calling 911 or trying to report an emergency. And officers can’t just charge someone they’ve stopped who happens to have a cell phone in the car – it’s not like having an open alcohol container on board.

Also, campus enforcement would be tricky. But there you’d find more students walking while distracted than driving while distracted.

I agree with Council Member Jim Ward that a statewide public awareness campaign should be the next step to take.

Six states and the District of Columbia prohibit drivers from using hand-held phones. But as Arthur Goodwin, senior research associate with the UNC Highway Safety Research Center, pointed out at the meeting, the real danger comes from what he called “cognitive distraction.” In other words, it’s not so much driving one-handed while holding a cell phone in the other that’s causing people to drive erratically as it is their brains focusing on the phone conversation rather than their 2-ton machine while hurtling down the road.

Bottom line: Let’s engage those brains to reduce the number of “distracted” drivers. It’s pretty dumb to drive a 2-ton vehicle without applying all your faculties to operating that vehicle safely. And it’s very difficult to legislate against stupidity. So let’s take the slow approach and educate rather than legislate.

–Don Evans

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  1. Beth

     /  February 24, 2010

    I don’t think there even needs to be that much enforcement for it to work – if it was against the law, I wouldn’t do it (like Sally Greene said). I was told straight out by a Carrboro police officer that they prob wouldn’t stop people that were texting and driving, but I still follow the law mostly, so the intent of the law works without enforcement.

  2. Andy

     /  February 24, 2010

    Cell phones distract? So does radio, music, talking passengers, books in the car, children on back seats and nice views on the streets. Shouldn’t they be banned too?

  3. Fred Black

     /  February 24, 2010

    It is an uphill battle, education wise. I was driving on I-40 earlier today in the rain and was amazed at all of the vehicles with wipers on and lights off. How long has that been a law? Wonder too how often it’s enforced. Will phone use be any different?

  4. Bill

     /  February 24, 2010

    It is a complete waste of time. People will ignore it. The town council has bigger fish to fry, get on with it.

    Nice article, btw. Thanks

  5. Mark Marcoplos

     /  February 25, 2010

    Clearly, it’s tough to enforce. If I’m a cop, I would be hesitant to stop every driver yakking on a phone. It is a well-intentioned suggestion, but sticky in the details of implementation.

    However, I must admit that since the state outlawed texting while driving, I have cut down dramatically on checking e-mails and sending messages while driving (does waiting at a red light count?). Not only has my inner disciplianarian been activated by ban, but my wife and son have piled on when I’ve occasionally checked my screen while driving. So these discussions and initiatives raise awareness and probably make the roads safer. All-in-all a positive step forward and certainly the foundation of an awareness campaign.

  6. Steve

     /  February 25, 2010

    Marijuana possession and use are also illegal, yet, I don’t see the same reticence in avoiding this ‘product’ as is intimated there would be by passing some kind of feel-better cell phone use ban. At least, not around here.

    Some laws are good but others are bad? Self-enforcement is key? I’m not buying it.

    The MADD folks became effective not after re-engineering reinforcement of DUI laws, but when they made people driving under the influence into social pariahs. Same with tobacco. It’s not illegal to smoke in your car (despite the obvious distraction it causes), but look at the glances of disgust you get from adjacent cars when you try to do it.

    Make cell phone use while driving into a bad habit, showing how selfish and narcissistic it is to do, and, it’ll decrease. We don’t need any new laws.

  7. Mark Marcoplos

     /  February 25, 2010

    Steve – you are at the crest of the libertarian wave. Make all who would risk others a “self-enforcement” dilemma! No new laws means freedom from intellectual decisions! Let’s hit the road & see what happens.