Thursday, March 13, 2014

More data needed for driver cellphone ban

From:  Denver Post

There have been several attempts in Colorado to ban hand-held phone calls while driving, with the most notable debate occurring in 2009. Now lawmakers are back with a fresh bill.

If distracted driving is a growing and serious threat, then it may be time to curb the use of cellphones. But is the threat as severe as portrayed? Lawmakers need to get to the bottom of this question before they sign on.

House Bill 1225 bans the use of phone apps while driving, and also prohibits drivers from taking or receiving calls on hand-held devices. Or at least that is the sponsor's intention. The bill contains drafting errors that Rep. Javon Melton, D-Aurora, tells us he intends to repair with amendments.

Melton cites data from 2008 compiled by the Colorado State Patrol that nearly 5,000 of the 27,000 accidents it investigated involved inattentive drivers, with a majority using cellphones.

That's disturbing, but not all findings in this area are the same. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is a huge opponent of cellphone use while driving, says 21 percent of 15- to 19-year-old drivers killed because of distracted driving in 2012 were using phones.

Clearly, many other distractions — from eating and grooming to adjusting the radio — play a role in accidents.

National highway accident statistics might also give pause to any idea that dangerous driving is skyrocketing. NHTSA statistics show the fatality rate for all passenger vehicles dropped every year over the past decade through 2012 (the latest available).

We're all for banning the use of apps that aren't used to aid the driver, and curbing the dialing of phone numbers, when drivers' eyes are off the road. But lawmakers should go slow on banning all hand-held calls absent data that show that such a move is justified and, for that matter, that a ban has worked in those states that have tried it.