Home » Hands-free cellphones for drivers may not be attention-getter
August 19, 2013

Hands-free cellphones for drivers may not be attention-getter

Terry Amanti said he supports banning drivers from using hand-held cellphones. A driver on a cellphone rear-ended his car in May and caused $4,000 damage, he said.

“She got out of the car, and she was still on the cellphone,” Amanti said.

Yet, he’s unconvinced using an earpiece is much better.

“If you’re talking on a phone, you’ve got tunnel vision whether it’s in your hand or it’s Bluetooth,” said Amanti, of Schaumburg, while he stood in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Elk Grove Village.

Amanti’s support for the ban, which Gov. Pat Quinn signed Friday, is widely shared. So, perhaps, is the ambiguity.

The role of cellphones in distracted driving remains as unclear as wireless phone signals in the hills and hollers. Some research suggests holding a cellphone to the ear creates the same level of distraction as using hands-free technology. Or that both versions have the same distraction level as being drunk. Or that crash rates remain the same with or without drivers using cellphones. Or that crashes decline in densely populated areas after handhelds are banned.

“We don’t really know the full answer” to the uncertainty over cellphones’ impact on driver distraction, said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, IIHS. “There is some conflicting evidence.”

The crucial point, Rader suggested, is that cellphones are only one distraction for drivers, who have their attention diverted by spilling or sipping coffee, gobbling a sandwich, fiddling with the radio, or daydreaming, among other activities. It’s been that way for decades, Rader and others note.

The U.S. has about 322 million wireless cellphone subscribers, and minutes of use have increased nearly 20 percent, to 2.3 trillion since June 2007, the IIHS reports. But singling out motorists’ electronic devices and restricting their use by law is unlikely to reduce overall distracted driving or crashes, Rader said.

“Because distracted driving is bigger than just phones, we really need a bigger solution, a broader strategy,” he added.

Illinois has banned texting while driving for years and will become the first Midwestern state to impose the hand-held cellphone ban, violations of which will yield fines of $75 to $150. A total of 11 states, mostly on the East and West coasts, and the District of Columbia already ban drivers from using handhelds.

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