The problem of people driving under the influence of YAP, which is talking on a cell phone while driving, cuts much deeper and wide than most people realize. And the reason has to do with the exponential proliferation of cell phones, a technology that American laws, not to mention customs and personal habits, have yet to catch up with. Meanwhile the number of people hurt or killed by one-handed/half-brained drivers are being under-reported to the detriment of awareness about the insidious problem.
Laws to mandate hands-free usage are cropping up all over the United States but they seem to be founded on a fallacious distinction between hand held and hands-free devices when it comes to driving. Experts say there IS no distinction. The most recent studies out of the University of Utah say the devices make no difference because it is the talking that is the distraction. (More details on this revealing study later.)
YAP is talk which impairs the driver in the same way that alcohol does. It impairs cognition and attention by turning one’s focus inwards – to a world of thoughts and images related to a conversation – instead of outwards where danger lurks around every corner of the road. (Anyone who has ever been engaged in a intense phone dialogue can remember times when one couldn’t account for the time between driving from point A to B.)
California State University, Dominguez Hills psychology professor Larry Rosen, explains the psychology behind this phenomenon:
“If you talk to somebody on a phone, you only get a limited number of cues, as opposed to looking at someone when you can see their demeanor, their facial expressions,” he explained. “When you don’t have those cues, your brain has to work hard to fill them in and having to work extra hard means you’ll be paying little attention to the road.”
And because of this, Rosen thinks that the hands-on versus the hands-free is a distinction without difference which, in his view, makes the new law rather “ludicrous.” (Shelley Leachman, Staff Writer, DailyBreeze.Com, Will hands-free drive home safely?)
THE CALIFORNIA EXPERIENCE
There are jesters who have poked fun at California’s new hands-free law, but Jokes aside, there is probably more to the state’s contention that cell phones are the number one cause of distracted-driving accidents, than fodder for legislative propaganda.
Months after passing its first cell phone hands free law on July 1, 2008, there is disquieting evidence that a lot of Californians don’t give a damn about the new law. A Mercurynews.com report article compiled by Gary Richards seems to indicate that members of the public are not seeing much of a change in road behavior when it comes to hands-on cell phone use since July 1.
“Q I’m curious. Have the police and Highway Patrol stopped enforcing the hands-free cell law? On my four-mile commute from Sunnyvale to Santa Clara one day I counted eight drivers on their cell phones. One was going 35 mph down Central Expressway! “… I only drive about 20 to 30 miles a day, but hardly a day goes by that I don’t notice half a dozen people talking with cell phones in their hands. “… I see just as many folks today yapping on their hand-held phones and driving just as carelessly and cluelessly as before the ban. So is there a law against this or not?”
W. Dolby, Don Bentley, Bob Anderson and many more
“A I could print nothing but complaints like this for a week, as readers and some cops say a growing number of drivers are ignoring the hands-free law that went into effect July 1. The CHP has issued more than 35,000 tickets statewide, a figure that does not include citations from city police departments.
What’s happening here is what happened in New York when that state banned hand-held phones in 2001. Motorists heeded the law for a while, but police issued 142,000 tickets that year. Now, the tally is about 270,000 a year.
Going hands-free has some advantages, with a recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California showing that motorists with two hands on the wheel have lower crash rates when in heavy traffic or driving in bad weather. But other studies show that driving while on a cell phone is dangerous, be it hands-free or not. Overall, reaction times slow so badly when talking on the phone while behind the wheel that it’s similar to driving drunk. You see drivers running red lights, going much slower than the pace of traffic, and doing so many stupid things. So get off the phone — period!
Two thoughts: The $100 fine for a first offense is too low and needs to be at least doubled. And this should be made a moving violation that would send a driver to traffic school or face higher insurance costs.” Gary Moore, Roadshow: Abuse of hands-free cell phone law appears widespread. MercuryNews.Com (Article now under archives)
Things to learn from all this:
1. Current fines, at $100 for the first offense, are just too low to effect change in people’s behaviors. Au contraire, an initial fine of $300 or more for the first offense, like gas at the $4 a gallon price-point, seems to be the critical point-of-pain at which people will start to change habits.
2. In addition to increased fines, the state needs to make offenses a moving violation with points assessed on the driver’s record. This results in increased insurance costs. Truism: Most drivers are more afraid of their insurance man in a Brooks Brothers suit than a cop hiding in the bushes with a radar gun.
3. People are probably too comfy in their ability to not be spotted by cops. Like the seat-belt law, the cell phone law requires intimate visual contact before a person can be pulled over and cited for a violation. A paradigm shift will occur only when local, county and state police engage in massive enforcement campaigns with hundreds of police in unmarked cars busting offenders left right and center.
Handicap: The exceptions given to police and “emergency personell” to use cell phones without headset devices has really taken the edge or moral persuasiveness of the cause behind this law. As in the case of emergency parking, it is really doubtful that every policeman yapping on a cell phone without a headset is on a emergency call.
According to an MSNBC report: “New York, the first state to enact a hands-free law in 2001, reported 1,170 crashes from 2001 through 2006 where handheld cell phones were considered a factor, versus 214 involving hands-free devices, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.”
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