On July 1, the state government of California will begin implementing a new safety law that will help curb vehicle accidents caused by inattentive drivers who use their handsets or cellphones while on the road.
With the implementation of the new law, California has joined five other states such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Utah, Washington State, and the District of Columbia, which already have existing laws banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving.
As a result, many people expect to see changes on the behavior of many motorists and hopefully, in the prosecution of drivers who caused fatal car accidents.
According to the California’s Cellphone Law, drivers will be required to use a hands-free device to attend to their calls while driving.
Those caught violating the law will be penalized $ 20 at first offense while subsequent violations will cost $ 50, with no points against a drivers insurance. A companion law also bars drivers younger than 18 from using any type of cellphone, similar to restrictions in 16 other states.
While effects are yet to be seen, critics point out that the new safety law may hardly affect the behavior of some drivers who remain unfazed with the threat of the $ 20 fine.
At the most, critics of the new law wanted an outright ban of cellphone use when driving. They argued that the risk of getting involved in a car accident is not the result of whether one or both hands of the driver are on the wheel, rather by the distraction or drivers inattention.
In an article in the Los Angeles Times, University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center researcher Arthur Goodwin said that the use of hands-free phone is equally risky.
According to research, the biggest danger is cognitive capture or being blind to driving cues because one is absorbed in conversations, especially emotional ones.
Hands-free laws have come to be seen as the most politically feasible way to address the dangers of driver distraction because of cellphone use.
Goodwin and other scientists say that hands-free laws could actually make things worse by encouraging drivers to make more or longer calls.
Even federal highway safety officials have warned against laws like Californias that allow hands-free calling as far back as 2003. In a letter sent to a top official of the agency, the officials said that: We are convinced that legislation forbidding the use of hand-held cellphones will not be effective. Such laws may erroneously imply that hands-free phones are safe to use while driving.
The letter was based on a lengthy review of worldwide research on driver distraction conducted at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a branch of the Department of Transportation. In the review, the agencys researchers had estimated fatalities linked to cellphone use by drivers, putting the toll at 955 deaths in 2002. They predicted that it would only rise because of the growing use of cellphones, especially such activities as text messaging.
In addition, other published research also has resulted in similar findings. A study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis estimated that there are about 2,600 deaths and 12,000 serious to critical injuries a year in crashes involving drivers using cellphones.
Two widely cited studies found a greater crash risk for drivers using cellphones than for normal driving with nearly identical risks for hand-held and hands-free phones. The studies looked at drivers and collisions in Canada and Australia, where cellphone records were available for analysis, unlike the U.S.
Supporters of Californias hands-free law cite Highway Patrol statistics showing more accidents involving hand-held phones than hands-free, but the data are limited and not adjusted for the number of hand-held or hands-free phones in use.
Some of the largest U.S. corporations bar employees from using cellphones when driving during work hours, making no exception for hands-free calling. DuPont, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, and its parent, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, with collectively hundreds of thousands of employees, are among those with cellphone bans.
AMEC, a large engineering concern, also prohibits its 7,000 employees in the U.S. and Canada from using cellphones while driving. There is no better way to proactively boost safety for a mobile, white-collar workforce, company spokesman John Kageorge said.
However, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, of 95 bills pending in 28 states that relate to cellular use by drivers, none would impose an all-out ban. Typically, the bills would prohibit talking by teenagers or school bus drivers, or require hands-free devices all measures the multibillion-dollar cellphone industry no longer opposes.
But with the increase in the use of cellular phone up to 73% of Americans at least occasionally use cellphones while driving, according to one survey what companies can do may be politically impossible for state legislatures.
In the meantime, we can only hope that the new law may finally be effective in its purpose.
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