published Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Could U.S. drivers ever abide by cellphone ban?

By JAMIE STENGLE

Associated Press

  • photo
    A driver uses a cellphone while driving in Houston. The National Transportation Safety Board declared Tuesday that texting, emailing or chatting on a cellphone while driving is just too dangerous to be allowed anywhere in the United States and is urging all states to impose total bans except for emergencies.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

DALLAS — Junior Woods has a well-practiced routine for conducting business on the road: While driving throughout rural Arkansas, the electronics salesman steals a glance at his cellphone every so often, checking for text messages and emails.

“I can keep both hands on the steering wheel and just look down my nose and read in 10-second intervals,” Woods said in a phone interview from Rogers, Ark. “I’m actually doing that right now.”

Like millions of other Americans, Woods uses his car as a mobile office, relying on his phone almost every hour of every workday to stay productive and earn a living. So would drivers ever abide by a proposed ban on almost all cellphone use behind the wheel, even if it is hands-free? Could they afford to?

Those are just a few of the questions looming over a federal recommendation that seeks to rein in what has become an essential tool of American business.

Woods said the ban, if adopted, would devastate his sales. Because he lives in a rural state, his minimum drive is an hour and a half.

“If I have a 3 1/2-hour drive to Little Rock, and I’ve got 100 messages to return, it’s going to turn that into a six-hour drive,” he said. “I’ve got no secretary. I’m the administrative assistant. I’m the salesman. I’m the sales director.”

The National Transportation Safety Board declared Tuesday that texting, emailing or chatting while driving is just too dangerous to be allowed anywhere in the United States. It urged all states to impose total bans except for emergencies.

The NTSB, an independent agency that investigates accidents and makes safety recommendations, doesn’t have the power to impose regulations or make grants. But its suggestions carry significant weight with lawmakers and regulators.

Still, a decision rests with the states, meaning that 50 separate legislatures would have to act. And many lawmakers are just as wedded to their cellphones as Woods.

“I think all of us have mixed feelings on this issue. How could you not?” said U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, whose northern Virginia district has some of the longest, most traffic-choked commutes in the country.

Before going to Congress, the Democrat spent most of his career at the county level, driving around Fairfax County with his cellphone. Now he commutes to Capitol Hill by carpool or mass transit so he can use his phone without getting behind the wheel.

While he’s sympathetic to the NTSB’s safety concerns, he said, a blanket ban on cellphone use would be unenforceable. But he agrees that hands-free devices offer little improvement over those that are hand-held.

“It’s a cognitive distraction,” he said. “The mental attention shifts ... to that other party, not to the task at hand.”

Dallas event planner Debbie Vaughan said she would abide by any ban, but her service to clients would be diminished.

“I know many people are frustrated when all they get is voicemail,” said Vaughan, who spends about 10 hours a week on her cellphone in her car.

Bruce McGovern said he would have no choice but to defy the law.

McGovern, who owns four Massage Envy and four European Wax Center franchises in the Dallas area, said he spends up to four days a week on the road, traveling between his businesses.

“My business would go down. We’d have problems we couldn’t solve. My employees wouldn’t be able to reach me and get timely answers,” McGovern said.

“Customer issues that only I can resolve would have to be delayed. And in this day and age, customers want instantaneous results for things. They’re not willing to wait three or four hours,” he said.

McGovern, who said he uses hands-free technology 90 percent of the time, said he’s been conducting business from his car for more than 20 years, starting with an early “bag phone” that predated today’s much smaller cellphones.

“It’s a total overreach of the government. It’ll be enforced erratically. They can’t even enforce the speed limits,” McGovern said.

Boston attorney Jeffrey Denner said he racks up at least 25 billable hours each week while driving.

“I probably spend three hours a day on the phone in the car — minimum. In an hour, I can talk to 10 people. On my way to court, I call people to make sure witnesses are lined up. It’s become a part of my life.”

Besides, he said, there’s plenty of other distractions modern drivers deal with.

“If you want to talk about distraction, you should talk about how the whole notion of technology is distracting. Let’s look at the command centers in cars right now, with the GPS, climate control, satellite radio with 9,000 options, looking down, getting directions. There are 20 different things we’re playing with in our cars all the time.”

J.R. Maddox of Minneapolis, another attorney, said it makes no sense to ban hands-free devices.

“If they wanted to go that far, they should also ban speaking to anyone in the car,” Maddox said. His hands-free device allows him to keep both hands on the wheel, maintain his field of vision and look over his shoulder.

“The fact of the matter is we have to travel to work. It would reduce the amount of time I could actually communicate with clients and, hence, billing time.”

The federal government last year banned texting while driving for commercial truck and bus drivers. The ban was extended to all hand-held cellphone use last month, although commercial drivers can still use hands-free devices.

The chairman of a South Dakota trucking company said he doesn’t understand why people need to be talking on the phone while driving in the first place.

“There’s nothing so important that they need to run somebody over because they couldn’t stop,” said Larry Anderson, of A & A Express Inc., a Brandon, S.D., company that hauls refrigerated products.

In New York City, Chrissy DeLuso and her mother were waiting for a cab to take them to a Broadway show. Both women agreed that texting while driving was a bad idea and didn’t mind if the government cracked down on it.

But when it came to banning all cellphone use, they hesitated.

With a smile, DeLuso admitted she “can’t promise” she wouldn’t be talking on her cell phone even if it were illegal.

Jo Trizila, president of Dallas public relations company TrizCom Inc., said she would welcome a comprehensive ban, even for hands-free technology.

“I think it would be actually good for mental health,” she said, “that you just have some down time.”

———

Associated Press writers Kelly P. Kissel in Little Rock, Denise Lavoie in Boston, Deepti Hajela in New York City, Kristi Eaton in Sioux Falls, S.D., Matthew Barakat in McLean, Va., and Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this report.

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rolando said...

Sure they can abide by the law...they faithfully obeyed the 55mph national speed limit, didn't they?

They faithfully obey the law here in Tennessee about staying on your own side of the double line on curves, don't they?

Yeah, right. In a pig's eye they will.

December 15, 2011 at 7:45 a.m.
jesse said...

if you put enough of their a$$'$ in the jail house the message will get across!

a law is totally useless UNLESS it is enforced 1

9 TIMES OUT OF TEN when i am behind some numb nuts at a red light and they sit thru 2 cycles they have a cell phone stuck to their ear!!

make a cell phone use violation a MOVER!the cops get credit for those!watch the #'s go up! gets the shift commander off their ass!!

hey rolando,did you ever drive thru OHIO when they had a 55 mph speed limit?

the ohio state troopers would ticket you for 56 m.p.h.periot!

folks did not speed in ohio back then!at all!

December 15, 2011 at 8:05 a.m.
ahbrannon1 said...

The use of a cell phone is a privilege not a right. When a privilege is causing harm to others then the people have the right to curtail that privilege. Cell phones, texting etc are dangerous. They should be banned from use in a car by everyone in the car driver or passenger.

December 15, 2011 at 8:24 a.m.
rolando said...

I lived in Ohio 10 years, jesse. I know whereof you speak, but perhaps you meant the Pennsylvania Turnpike? Yes, they were serious.

While growing up in Los Angeles, I wondered where all the idiot drivers were coming from [the ones the semis regularly took out]. They had to have been Ohioans. The double-line crossers here are just like them.

December 15, 2011 at 8:42 a.m.
rolando said...

We pretty much agree, ahbrannon. The problem is in the enforcing...

December 15, 2011 at 8:44 a.m.
Bumpkin said...

JESSE!!!!

That is not how you spell PERIOD!!!!!

December 15, 2011 at 8:55 a.m.
frank said...

IF THEY BAN THAT THEN THEY NEED TO BAN DOGS RIDING IN CARS

December 15, 2011 at 9 a.m.
jesse said...

HEY BUMPKIN!!

THAT'S THE WAY I SPELL IT!!!lmfao!!;-)

btw:roho,if you drive thru virginia ,drive the speed limit!they STILL don't take any prisnors!(hey bumpkin, thats the way i spell prisoners also!LOL!)

December 15, 2011 at 9:07 a.m.
Bumpkin said...

Jesse,

That's why you are unemployed!

December 15, 2011 at 9:12 a.m.
jesse said...

NOPE! i.m RETIRED! work part time at a golf course!(free golf!!)

livin the good life and gittin on here and rilin up the a$$holes!

December 15, 2011 at 9:21 a.m.
Yellowjacket said...

I can't help but wonder how this would affect our police forces what with all the distractions they have in their patrol cars. Two way radios, radar, hand held walkie talkies, computers, and yep......"cellphones". All used in the line of duty! Did I miss something?

December 15, 2011 at 9:32 a.m.
LatrobeGirl said...

If they are going to outlaw the use of hands-free devices, then they should also ban the driver from speaking to ANYONE in the car as well. I have hands-free bluetooth in my car. All I have to do is press a button on my steering wheel (no more dangerous than turning the cruise-control on), and my car asks me for a command. I say "Call Marie" and it calls my best friend for me. I then can speak to her as if she were sitting next to me. Why is THAT dangerous?? Heck yeah, fumbling with a phone, texting, reading emails....those things are all dangerous, crazy, and foolish.

But why is my hands-free device any different than speaking to Marie in the passenger seat?

December 15, 2011 at 10:29 a.m.
Salsa said...

U.S. drivers cannot even abide by the simplest of traffic laws, so no, they could not do this.

December 15, 2011 at 11:32 a.m.
onetinsoldier said...

Who needs enforcement? Very simple to design phones to not operate at over 15 miles an hour. It only takes a cheap accelerometer and some programming. I can think of a dozen ways to keep you from using a phone in a car. I'd prefer the one that drags you out of your car and rubs your face in the gravel for being an idiot and then smashes your phone.

December 15, 2011 at noon
Yellowjacket said...

Safety on the highways should be the most important consideration in traffic laws. I think we should ban any children under the age of 14 from riding in autos......... also eating, listening to music, or driving with only one hand on the steering wheel.

December 15, 2011 at 12:10 p.m.
LatrobeGirl said...

Idiots can be phone-users and non-phone-users. I've been the victim of SEVERAL rear-end smashes, while I've been at a complete stop. None of those people were using a phone, but they were IDIOTS just the same.

December 15, 2011 at 12:26 p.m.
Bumpkin said...

Hey Yellowjacket,

You should be banned from the planet.

December 15, 2011 at 1:02 p.m.
LibDem said...

I agree with rolando that those who disregard current law will ignore this law as well. Nevertheless, many will obey the law and that will result in a net reduction in distracted drivers.

I'm a really old driver (cars hadn't been invented when I learned to drive), so I can drive anywhere in Chattanooga without making or receiving a call. Younger drivers are into instant gratification. LatrobeGirl probably can't go 15 minutes without talking to her friend Marie because she would miss something important. This might mean there are two distracted drivers who may need to get lives.

December 15, 2011 at 2:12 p.m.
LatrobeGirl said...

You miss the point, LibDem. Making snide remarks about how long I go without speaking to a friend is exactly what I could expect from someone who is into the government controlling every aspect of our lives.

What I asked is: how is talking to someone sitting beside me any different than using my hands-free device?

I completely agree that fumbling with a cell-phone, texting, reading emails....all that is dangerous.

So, LibDem, if you have a passenger in the car, is it dangerous for you to have a conversation with them?

December 15, 2011 at 3:12 p.m.
LibDem said...

If conversation with a passenger distracts you, it's dangerous. However, you are more likely to break off an in car conversation in a tight traffic situation since your passenger can see your attention is required.

Now, back to Bruce McGovern in the report above whose massage and wax business requires immediate decisions moment to moment. ("The police are here, Boss! What do I do?") There are many excuses and one is a total paucity of planning.

December 15, 2011 at 4:23 p.m.
LatrobeGirl said...

Oh, puh-leez. I'm more likely to break off an in-car conversation? Don't pretend to know me, and don't pretend to know the mind of the average driver. A conversation is a conversation.

The banning of hands-free devices is moronic and typical of the over-reaction of the government.

December 15, 2011 at 4:35 p.m.
LibDem said...

LatrobeGirl, I'm just giving you a hard time. Seriously, you are an intelligent, well-spoken person whose friends would appreciate and enjoy your undivided attention.

December 15, 2011 at 5:17 p.m.
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