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July 9, 2008

Editorials

Is the New Cell Phone Law a Good Decision?

The New Law is a Great Start

BY JESSICA LUTHI
EDITOR

Cell phones have become everyday household items. Everywhere you look you see students catching up with friends, business executives conversing with associates about their next deal or mothers receiving a call from their daughters to tell them they're O.K.. There is no doubt that cell phones have become a necessity in peoples’ lives.

But where do you draw the line? On July 1, California joined the states New York, New Jersey and Connecticut by imposing a law that requires drivers to use a hands-free device for their cell phones. Drivers who are 18 or younger are not allowed to use cell phones in the car at all.

For California this new law is a big step in the right direction. A University of Utah study showed that talking on a cell phone with or without a hands-free device is just as dangerous as driving drunk.

Forcing drivers to change their habits will be difficult, especially when many people have an intimate relationship with their cell phone. Although the law isn’t foolproof, it will benefit not only drivers but pedestrians and bicyclists as well. Pedestrians have to be particularly aware of their surroundings. Many drivers, especially if they are young, are careless and easily distracted. The law may improve the skills of young drivers, but it is not enough.

Studies show that talking while driving is hazardous, that's why it would be in the state's best interest to completely restrict cell phone use for drivers. The National Transportation and Highway Safety Administration says that drivers talking on their cell phones cause more than a quarter of the accidents that occur on the highways and roadways. This doesn’t include the thousand of accidents that go unreported.

By passing this legislation, California voters agreed that driving and talking is unsafe. The law was put into place to create safer roadways for everybody, but only banning cell phones on the road altogether will do that. It's time to break the habit that society has created and separate people from the electronic umbilical cord known as the cell phone.


The New Law is Ineffective

BY ELLEN SILK
EDITOR

We all do it. Talking, smoking, changing the music, applying make-up, even looking out the window can be a distraction while driving. As of July 1st it is illegal to use a hand held phone while driving in the state of California.This raises two questions for me: How much will I have to pay for a hands-free device? And what about other distractions while driving?

It seems like every ad I see or hear about the law taking effect also includes a reminder to get a hands-free device. The most popular kind is a Bluetooth earpiece, which can cost up to $50. Many cell phone companies offer package deals which include a hands-free device with the purchase of a new cell phone. What about the people who bought only handsets? In order to be compliant with the law you would have to pay about $20 for a hands-free device, which ironically is the same price of a ticket for not using one while talking and driving. Even after spending $20, the devices can be complicated, difficult to put on in time, and hard to connect. Once connected though, drivers are then free to pursue other distractions.

On any trip in the car a driver can be seen smoking, eating, changing the radio station or their iPod, searching for something in the glove box, texting or talking on the phone. Many of us get disillusioned, thinking we can do more than one of these tasks while driving. It should be your personal responsibility to know how much you can multi-task while driving. Drivers need to limit distractions based on their personal judgment, not based on a law. What’s next ? Changing the station only at a red traffic light? The amount of the fine, $20 for the first offense and $50 for the second, shows how little the state values this law. It could be argued that a parking ticket costs more. It’s like they are saying “We know you are going to do it and now we can charge you for it.”

The spirit of the law is there, cautioning us to drive safely and to pay attention to the road. However, reality is that drivers, phones, the radio or just life will distract us. Reality also factors in when we can’t find (or haven’t bought) our Bluetooth to answer a call while driving on the freeway and end up using the handset. The new law is a disguised toll for driving rather than a method to prevent distractions for drivers.