Although many states do allow the use of cell phones while driving, in the District of Columbia, it is illegal to use any kind other than a hands-free device. For each offense, drivers are fined $100.00 for violating this law, in effect since July 1, 2004.
Motorists who talk on wireless phones while driving tend to drive slower, forgo opportunities to pass slow-moving vehicles, and generally take longer than other drivers to reach their destinations. Overall, people who talk on the phone while driving have the cumulative effect of congesting traffic. The finding is the result of recent research conducted at the University of Utah., and presented at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board.
In recent years, the same University of Utah research group has demonstrated that:
- Hands-free cell phones are no less dangerous while driving than hand-held cell phones because the conversation itself is the major distraction.
- When young adults talk on cell phones while driving, their reaction times become as slow as reaction times for senior citizens.
- Drivers talking on cell phones are as impaired as drivers with the 0.08 percent blood alcohol level that defines drunken driving in most states.
Using a computer-controlled driving simulation of congested traffic, researchers studied the driving responses of 36 Psychology students, each of whom completed 6 freeway scenarios, all 9.2 miles in length. The traffic speed and flow mimicked that of Interstate 15 in Salt Lake City, and each student completed 2 scenarios in low-density traffic, 2 in medium-density traffic, and 2 in high-density. At each density level, the students completed one scenario while talking on the phone, and the other without cell phone distraction.
Compiled research data indicates that in medium- and high-density traffic, drivers on cell phones were 21% and 19% less likely, respectively, to change lanes — even when they should have changed lanes to maintain appropriate speed. Furthermore, at every density level, drivers engaged in a phone conversations spent more time following behind slow drivers, when they otherwise would have attempted to pass. Motorists using cell phones also drove an average of 2 mph slower and took 15 to 19 seconds longer to complete each scenario. Those delays, compounded by the 10 percent of all drivers are ordinarily talking on wireless phones at any given time, can add up, warn the researchers.
Authors of the study warn that beyond causing accidents, the millions of drivers who routinely use cell phones while driving generate dramatic productivity losses that are very likely to surpass the costs associated with their traffic accidents.
Previously on the DC Metro Area Personal Injury Law Blog, we have posted articles related to:
- A new Virginia law banning cell phone use and text messaging for drivers under 18
- A safety group asking auto makers to steer clear of built-in hands-free devices
- National Transportation Safety Board calls for bans on bus driver cell phone use
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