Cell phones endanger drivers


Put the key in the ignition. Fasten your seatbelt. Turn off your cell phone

Pennsylvania Sen…. Put the key in the ignition. Fasten your seatbelt. Turn off your cell phone

Pennsylvania Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Pittsburgh) proposed legislation Tuesday that would prohibit motorists from talking on and texting from handheld cell phones when driving.

The bill would, however, allow drivers to make calls using hands-free technology, such as speakerphones or in-ear microphones.

“Studies show that distracted driving is a significant cause of accidents,” Stephen Bruder, Ferlo’s chief of staff, said. “We are trying to prevent accidents, even deaths.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that “distracted driving,” which includes using a cell phone, is a factor in the cause of 20 to 30 percent of all car crashes – or 1.2 million accidents per year. Sen. Ferlo has referred to this statistic several times.

In 2001, New York became the first state to enact a ban on cell phone use while driving. Catching up with friends behind the wheel in New Jersey costs a motorist $250.

Seven states, not including Pennsylvania, will have banned cell phone use while driving by 2008

Many other states, like Pennsylvania, have passed partial bans, which let local cities decide whether or not to allow motorists to use a cell phone while driving.

Sen. Ferlo has cited the recent death of five teens in western New York as an example of an incident in which cell phone use was a major factor in the case of the tragedy.

“If you have a cell phone in your hand, that is one less hand on the wheel,” Bruder said.

Since various studies have found that using a hand-held cell phone when driving can be a hazardous distraction, some assume that talking on a hands-free set is still safe. But that assumption has been challenged.

In a study published in the summer 2006 issue of Human Factors, the quarterly journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, researchers at the University of Utah concluded that talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol – even if the phone is hands-free.

The bill currently has nine co-sponsors – two Republicans and seven Democrats -and will be introduced by the end of the week. Eventually, the bill will end up in the hands of the Transportation Committee.