Cell Phones in the Hands of Drivers:
A Risk or a Benefit?
As of 2000, there were about ninety million cell phone users in the United States, with 85% of them using their phones while on the road (Sundeen 1). Because of evidence that cell phones impair drivers by distracting them, some states have considered laws restricting their use in moving vehicles. Proponents of legislation correctly point out that using phones while driving can be dangerous. The extent of the danger, however, is a matter of debate, and the benefits may outweigh the risks. Unless the risks of cell phones are shown to outweigh the benefits, we should not restrict their use in moving vehicles; instead, we should educate the public about the dangers of driving while phoning and prosecute irresponsible phone users under laws on negligent and reckless driving.
We have all heard horror stories about distracted drivers chatting on their cell phones. For example, in a letter to the editor, Anthony Ambrose describes being passed by another driver “who was holding a Styrofoam cup and a cigarette in one hand, and a cellular telephone in the other, and who had what appeared to be a newspaper balanced on the steering wheel—all at approximately 70 miles per hour” (128). Another driver, Peter Cohen, says that after he was rear-ended, the guilty party emerged from his vehicle still talking on the phone (127). Admittedly, some drivers do use their cell phones irresponsibly. The dangers are real, but how extensive are they? To date there have been few scientific reports on the relation between cell phone use and traffic accidents. In 1997, Donald Redelmeier and Robert Tibshirani studied 699 drivers who owned mobile phones and had been in accidents. The drivers, who volunteered for the study, gave the researchers detailed billing records of their phone calls. With these data, the researchers found that “the risk of a collision when using a cellular telephone was four times higher than the risk when a...
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