Policy Statement : Cell Phone Use while Driving

Policy Statement:

Cell phone use while driving has become an enormous issue for our country, resulting in policies that are now being enforced to ban and limit the distractions drivers could potentially have while operating a vehicle. The purpose of these policies is to limit cell phone use while driving and to protect drivers from potential accidents resulting in injury or death. Texting while driving is now the leading cause of death for teenage drivers, surpassing the drinking and driving accidents. Currently, one out of every four car accidents in the U.S. are being caused by texting and driving. These laws are ultimately to prevent car accidents and fatalities of drivers and passengers because of distracted driving. With our societies constant advancements in technology, it is important to have laws in place to protect everyone on the road.

Policy Background:

Laws and policies surrounding cell phone use while and driving started in New York in 2001 (McCartt, Kidd, & Teoh, 2014). In 2007, Washington was the first state to ban texting while driving when hand held cell phones became more popular and easier to access (McCartt, Kidd, & Teoh, 2014). From the years 2011-2016, 13% of all car crashes resulting from distracted drivers were due to cell phone use (Background on: Distracted Driving). Many people saw cell phones as a convenient way to deal with work and personal situations on the go and it was difficult to see the negative and dangerous sides to these new innovative concepts. However, cell phone use while driving does pose a serious threat for distracting drivers that causes fatal accidents. From CDC reports, approximately nine people are killed daily and more than 1,000 people are injured daily in the U.S., from incidents involving a distracted driver (Distracted Driving). Currently, there is no national ban on texting and driving but, 16 states have decided to ban the use of cell phones, 38 states have banned adolescents and novice drivers from all cell phone use, and 47 states have banned texting while driving for all drivers to protect against distraction (Essex, 2018). Most states have agreed to take action with these laws and policies to limit the amount of distractions and try to enforce focused and safe driving. A poll used to determine if the public agreed with these actions determined that 74% of drivers agree with banning hand-held devices while driving and 94% of drivers support the ban of texting while driving (NHTSA, 2013). Laws concerning cell phones and driving are dealt with at a state level, therefore each state has different policies surrounding this subject. This is a more effective way to enforce these policies, but it is important for drivers to understand other state’s laws before crossing state lines. These policies are important for people to follow to ensure safety for not only the driver and their passengers, but for other people in different vehicles or walking pedestrians. NHTSA or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is fighting for the safety of our drivers on the national level by educating Americans about the dangers and partnering with local and state police to better enforce the laws against distracted driving (NHTSA, 2013).

The primary law prohibiting texting while driving has a minimum fine for the first violation and increased fines for repeat offenders (Distracted Driving, 2019). The law does not provide for an exemption to allow texting while stopped in traffic. These policies are important to have because of the safety of others and to enforce the prevention of distractions, but there are also debatable concerns when it comes to these policies. Issues become a concern for parents who always need to keep in contact with their children and family. With busy parents spending a lot of time in their cars, it is likely that they will need some form of communication in case of emergencies with their children. By banning cell phones from cars, it is hard for that to happen. Cell phone use for work calls are another reason why banning cell phones could be controversial. People with jobs that need to keep in touch at all times throughout the day, like doctors, might need to take calls or receive updates from their workplace. For some states, Bluetooth is a legal option for taking calls, however not all cars guarantee that feature and for many people, it is not accessible and very expensive.

Options Analysis:

In North Carolina, most drivers have little to no regulation on cell phone use while driving, however, there are strict regulations for school bus drivers and novice drivers, under the age of 18 (Nolo, 2018). These restrictions are only enforced when the bus or vehicle is in motion and have exceptions for emergencies or contacting family. Other restrictions are given to police officers, firefighters or ambulance drivers on duty that need to be in contact with coworkers or hospitals by call or text (Nolo 2018). Based on the Distracted Driver Law, all drivers are banned from texting and driving while operating a vehicle (GHSA). Consequences for disobeying these laws result in bus drivers receiving a class 2 misdemeanor and a minimum fine of $100 because of the danger it puts the student passengers in (Nolo, 2018). Drivers under the age of 18 who violate this law receive a fine of $25 and no demerit points on their license (Nolo, 2018). Currently, HB 144 is being introduced emphasizing North Carolina drivers facing a penalty of $100 for talking on a cellular device while driving (Jarvis, C., & Specht, P. A., 2019). Similar laws have previously failed, as many people believe this would limit their rights too much (Endplay, 2019). As cell phones and technology become increasingly more used and relied on, the number of accidents is expected to increase. Enforcing these cell phone laws while driving at a more stricter level could potentially benefit safety in vehicles, since approximately 54,000 distracted driving accidents occur in North Carolina each year (Strickland &Agner, 2019).

The state of California is known as one of the strictest states when it comes to cell phone and driving laws. All drivers are banned from using any type of handheld cell phone device (Michon, 2017). A different law bans underage drivers from using hands free devices like speakerphone or Bluetooth. Another separate law bans the use of texting while driving for all drivers. California’s strict laws are put into place for safety of their residents and tourists, especially because of the amount of traffic it receives in its largely populated cities (Michon, 2017). None of these laws apply to the passengers of the vehicle, but these laws do apply to visitors and people who do not live in this state as well. California laws have exceptions to these laws including permission to call law enforcement or emergency services and for emergency service drivers to have access to cell phones on duty while driving. The state of California cannot enforce these laws on private property and therefore no rules of texting and driving are set into place in those designated areas. Because GPS’s are commonly found on people’s phones, a driver is allowed to turn the GPS on and off if it only takes one click to do so. Handheld GPS’s are helpful and convenient, but can cause a lot of distraction while driving. However, it is necessary for most tourists and even residents to be able to know where they are going. First offenders of this law will usually face a fine of $20 and the second offence raises to $50, not including assessment fines of this violation (Michon, 2017). Although California is strict and enforces texting and driving as a serious violation, no points will be counted on the offender’s driving record. Despite knowing the strict rules California enforces, almost 200,000 drivers were convicted for violating these laws in this state (Brod, G. J., & Brod, G. J.,2019).

Montana currently has no state legislation regarding the ban on texting when driving, regardless of the driver’s age. Because of the importance of these safety laws, local bans have been set in place to enforce fines or citations for cell phone use while driving. The main cities in Montana including Billings, Bozeman, Columbia Falls, and Great Falls ban all cell phone use at a local level (Montana’s Cell Phone and Distracted Driving Laws, 2018). Distracted driving accidents with the use of cell phones are a major contributor to overall accidents in Montana, but the state has not joined the majority of others in enforcing laws that help decreases these statistics. Montana is one of the only states that does not have any regulations banning cell phones, a lot of which could contribute to some studies showing no evidence of laws enforcing no cell phone use leading to a lower amount of car accidents. In the states that do ban texting and driving, many people violate this to make calls, text, and use the GPS every day. States like Montana believe it will be hard to control cell phone usage in cars and people would not follow the law anyways. Texting while driving laws are important in today’s age where technology and cell phones have become a large part of people’s everyday lives. These policies are set in place for a good reason, but the exceptions of using cell phones for emergencies and contacting families are just as important (Montana’s Cell Phone and Distracted Driving Laws, 2018).

Policy Recommendations:

Restricting handheld devices while driving provide clear benefits for safety for the driver, passengers, other drivers and walking pedestrians. Every state has its own policies, some, like California, have very strict policies that ban most cell phone usage while driving. Others, like Montana, have very few restrictions of cell phones in moving vehicles. Based on the rise of technology and the convenience of cell phones, it is often forgotten how dangerous and distracting these devices can be. It is important for states to implement laws and policies dedicated to banning or restricting cell phone use while driving for drivers to focus with little distractions in order to interest the safety of themselves and others. Concerns related to cell phone use restrictions while driving include parents needing to come in contact with their children. Most parents are not going to keep their phone out of sight in case of emergencies from their families. Also, people with jobs like doctors need to be able to be in contact with their jobs at most times of the day and may not follow the laws that are enforced. Although it is important and necessary to have these laws, exceptions need to be put in place for emergencies or family contact.

States with no regulations need to set some laws in place for people’s safety. Bluetooth and other hands-free devices have proven to be a safer way to have contact with people, while also being able to pay attention in certain states. Bluetooth can opt as an expensive accessory that is not easily accessible for some people, but speakerphone is another alternative to handheld devices that can provide a safer way to make calls while driving. Local enforcements are a good way to prevent texting and driving from occurring. Major cities with more traffic would not fail to have stricter laws concerning cell phones and drivers. California policies of strict enforcement and bans of cell phones should be a more common law between other states. The more relevant cell phones become in the everyday world, the more policies and stricter enforcements of these policies should be in place. Although there is no guarantee for the policies set in place against cell phone use will work, it is at least the first step in ensuring drivers are more focused with less distractions providing safer roads for everyone. If these laws prevent a few accidents at the very minimum, it can account for more than if no laws were set into place.

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