Ban all cell phone use while driving

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Since cell phones came into being, distracted driving has become the top cause of motor vehicle crashes and collisions.

And cell phone use is the top driving distraction.

On January 1, 2010, British Columbia engaged in a road safety policy that differentiated between hand held and hands free cell phone use.  They did so by prohibiting only hand held use while leaving hands free use legal.

This sent a powerful message to drivers.  It told drivers that hand held cell phone use was dangerous.  And that hands free cell phone use was safe.

Safety conscious British Columbians spent money on hands free cell phone technology.  And they continued to engage in cell phone communications while driving, thinking it was safe.

They were misled.

Hand held and hands free cell phone use are identically dangerous.  A Discussion Paper compiling the science is hyperlinked below.  The Executive Summary of that Discussion Paper includes the following: "In both simulated and real driving environments, the use of electronic devices has been shown to result in crashes and near misses. Drivers fail to process approximately 50 per cent of the visual information in their driving environment when they are using electronic communication devices. Evidence also concludes that there is no difference between the cognitive diversion associated with hands-free and hand-held cell phone use."

That same Discussion Paper predicted a harmful impact of banning only hand held cell phone use in the face of science saying that hands free is identically distracting: Legislation that bans only hand-held cell conversations conflicts with the research that has consistently found no difference in the degree of distraction between hand-held and hands-free cell conversations. As a result, these laws may not provide the expected benefits and may even generate harmful indirect impacts such as a false sense of security for those who talk on hands-free devices while driving.

Predictably, the January 1, 2010 law that misled drivers by prohibiting only hand held use did not have the desired effect.  In fact, a downward trend in crash statistics flattened and reversed.

What did we do to fix that?  We made things worse.

On June 1, 2016, we increased penalties for hand held cell phone use, while continuing to permit hands free.  That increased the harm of misleading drivers into believing hands free use was safe.  Even more British Columbians were pushed to spend money on hands free cell phone technology.

We did it again on March 1, 2018, penalties increased to such a level that our Attorney General at the time was quoted as saying: “Once implemented, this change will treat distracted driving as the serious high-risk behaviour that it is; one that is on par with impaired driving and excessive speeding”.

The sad truth?  Our governments that have passed these laws were armed with the science.  It was our own government that carefully reviewed the science and prepared the Discussion Paper in 2009, the year before the misleading and harmful law that was passed on January 1, 2010.

It is time to set the record straight.  Let's implement an effective road safety policy by banning all cell phone use while driving and educating the public with strong advertised messaging.  We can make a difference in road safety.

Are you confused about how hands free and hand held cell phone use while driving can be equally dangerous?  Please read the Discussion Paper.  Please also read the White Paper hyperlinked below.  In a nutshell, the danger is "brain off the road", much more so than "eyes off the road".

Resources:

Discussion Paper - Addressing the Problem of Distracted Driving and its Impacts to Road Safety, British Columbia's Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, 2009: https://www.hlaw.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Discussion-Paper.pdf 

Understanding the distracted brain – why driving while using hands-free cell phones is risky behaviour, National Safety Council (United States), April, 2012: https://www.nsc.org/Portals/0/Documents/DistractedDrivingDocuments/Cognitive-Distraction-White-Paper.pdf