Distracted driving causes far fewer car accidents than alcohol use, but the Department of Transportation still says phones in cars should be outlawed across the entire country.
Although a reverse lookup phone number search allows you to learn who a phone number belongs to and delivers the information behind anonymous phone calls, if U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gets his way, you will not be performing any number searches from inside your car. LaHood has been a supporter of state laws that ban cell phone use while driving in the past, but his agency has never before called for a federal law banning it altogether. Even though 38 states already have laws restricting or outlawing the use of electronic devices while driving and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that distracted driving was the cause of just 3,000 fatal traffic accidents nationwide last year, a number that is far less than the number of fatalities caused by alcohol-related traffic accidents, Secretary LaHood now says he thinks texting and talking on a cell phone while driving should be outlawed across the entire country. LaHood is calling for tougher federal legislation to deal with what he calls the “national epidemic” of distracted driving and maintains that law enforcement officials should have the ability to write tickets when people think they can use a cell phone and text and drive.
LaHood’s position is a bit unusual when you consider that the U.S. Department of Transportation reported just last year that only 9% of highway fatalities in 2010 were caused by distracted driving, compared to the 31% of deaths linked to alcohol use. The agency has also reported that the number of highway fatalities have been dropping since the 1980s and in 2010 they fell to the lowest level since 1949, a time when Americans drove much less and obviously used far less technology in their cars too. Despite the low numbers, many people feel that distracted driving is still a big problem because tests have shown that using a cell phone while driving delays a driver’s reaction time exactly the same as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08.
Critics of the laws banning cell phone use in cars contends that more laws are unnecessary because there are already many other laws covering the many different possible aspects of inattentive driving. One critic, Gary Biller, president of the National Motorists Association, said “”It shouldn’t matter if the driver is distracted by a conversation with another vehicle passenger, tuning the radio, eating a snack, or talking on a cell phone, existing laws cover all those distractions and more.” However, Mr. LaHood and the Department of Transportation have switched gears and now say stronger laws are needed to criminalize the activity so that people will stop doing it. The National Transportation Safety Board goes even father in the debate and is now recommending banning the use of hands-free phones while driving too. Until now, the Department of Transportation had not recommended a ban on hands-free phones, but LaHood said the agency is researching the use and effects of hands-free devices and has begun talking to the car manufacturers about the overall practice of installing Internet-connected features into cars. If LaHood and his agency get their way, your 2012 automobile might a lot more Internet connected and distracting than your disconnected 2015 model will ever be.