Are Cell Phone Bans a Distraction?


In a story about bans on the use of hand-held telephones while driving, The New York Times notes that mobile phones rarely contribute to accidents. A spokesman for the wireless industry, for example, "cited statistics showing that before the New York law was enacted, fewer than one-hundredth of 1 percent of New York City accidents were related to cellphones." The Times doesn't know quite what to make of such numbers. "With cellphone-related incidents making up only a small percentage of motor vehicle accidents," it says, "even government officials wonder why this particular behavior [i.e., using a hand-held phone] was chosen for a law, since studies have shown that hands-free and hand-held cellphones are equally distracting."

The second part of the sentence is a non sequitur, since accident statistics call into question all mobile phone bans, not just ones that allow hands-free use. As a AAA spokesman tells the Times, "It's not just the cellphone….The real issue is distracted drivers." The question is whether specifically banning potentially distracting activities (presumably including talking to passengers, putting on makeup, eating, tuning the radio, and driving with small children) makes more sense than citing people for careless driving.