Published: Feb 19, 2012 02:00 AM
Modified: Feb 17, 2012 06:02 PM
"Drivers on cell phones are as bad as drunks."
The headline could come from Chapel Hill this week, as the Town Council weighs a ban on talking on cell phones while driving. The council will hold a public hearing tomorrow night.
Instead, it comes from six years ago after the University of Utah published a study that showed drivers who talked on handheld or hands-free cellular phones were as impaired as drunken drivers. The town of Chapel Hill held its own simulation last week to make the same point.
Former Town Council member Joe Capowski has been making that point for more than a year, as the council considered, deferred and now reconsiders his request for a ban on cell phone calls on roads in Chapel Hill.
Capowski wrote a clear and logical argument for the ban on this page last Sunday. He explained in layman's terms why cell phones are more distracting than listening to the car radio or even talking with a passenger sitting beside you.
In short, when your brain processes what you hear, it's also using up some of its ability to process what you see. The more complicated the auditory task - a conversation versus passive listening - the more it robs from the visual task.
The super scary part? Cell phone calls can actually keep you from "seeing" things because the images don't reach your consciousness. You really don't know what you didn't see.
According to that Utah study:
"Motorists who talked on either handheld or hands-free cell phones drove slightly slower, were 9 percent slower to hit the brakes, displayed 24 percent more variation in following distance as their attention switched between driving and conversing, were 19 percent slower to resume normal speed after braking and were more likely to crash. Three study participants rear-ended the pace car. All were talking on cell phones. None were drunk."
The main argument against a local ban is that it would be hard to enforce, and maybe it would. But surely the same thing was said of seatbelts. Sometimes it takes time for public safety messages to sink in. And those messages have to start somewhere with consequences.
A cell phone citation could become a secondary charge when a driver is stopped for a moving violation. It could become the focus of public education campaigns like "Click it or Ticket" or "Booze It and Lose It," which reinforce the importance of wearing seatbelts and not drinking and driving.
But neither is likely to happen unless someone decides it's worth sacrificing a modern convenience to avoid sacrificing lives to that convenience.
Let's give this one some serious
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