Tuesday, July 1, 2008

JMO - Hands Free

Today the State of Washington prohibits using cellphones while driving. And while it's targetted at people using them with one hand, ie, holding them to their ear, and the laws bans using them under any circumstance, such as speaker phones, dialing or using other features. This includes while stopped or in traffic backups (stop and go). This is a followup to the banning of text messaging while driving earlier this year.

The only exception is dialing an emergency number to report an accident, crime, etc.

The law only allows totally hands-free phone use, using voice recognition calling or steering wheel controls. Anything else is banned. Many people, Washington State Patrol included, feel that using any cellphone while driving should be banned, but felt this was the next best step since many cars have hands-free capabilities built-in.

The federal government totally bans employees using cellphone while driving and requires either the passenger to handle calls or the drivers pulls over and is stopped, and being caught is grounds for immediate termination. It's also required that people receiving calls from employees on cellphones to ask if they're following the regulations, and if not, to hang up and consider reporting the individual.

I remember a time when a field technician called after fixing the satellite telemetry equipment at a streamflow gage. He was on an active logging road and I occasionally heard a truck passing the technician. I asked him to at least pull over but he said he was in a hurry to get to another site that day. Then I heard some noises and a string of language not part of our conversation. He had missed a turn and almost drove off the road into a ditch. He finally pulled over to finish the conversation.

Studies have shown it's not the cellphone that is the problem, although they showed holding one blocks or limits the driver's vision or movements, but simply not paying attention to driving. Driving takes so much concentration these days, almost any distraction is potentially dangerous. And they showed that many people using cellphones put more attention on the conversation than driving, forgetting many of the basic driving skills leading to lapses in attention and safety.

I am one of those who wants a total ban. I've seen too many people using cellphones and if possible I get away from them if it's obvious they're not really driving. And I've seen many driving dangerous, often fast in traffic, while talking on cellphones. It's not their level of confidence that scares me as the potential danger they pose to the rest of us. What don't people understand driving 60-70+ mph is dangerous enough but using a cellphone too?

The law makes this a secondary offense, meaning police and patrol officers can't stop you for using your cellphone, but only after finding another offense and noting you were also using a cellphone. Somehow I think if you're using one and it's obvious you're not paying attention to your driving, you'll be pulled over for some primary offense and then ticketed for the cellphone use.

So, to all you drivers, please pay attention and drive now.

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