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Thursday, June 09, 2005

hands-free = no help

As many of you know, the Chicago city council passed legislation in May that will ban the use of cell phones while driving in Chicago, unless a hands-free device is used, starting on July 8. Now comes information, as many of us have suspected, that hands-free devices may not be any safer than hand-held cell phones, as reported here, spotted via Drudge.
Using a cell phone behind the wheel is a key cause of traffic accidents and hands-free devices provide little safety benefit, the Detroit News reported, citing federal officials.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration researchers said devices like head sets or voice-activated dialing led to longer dialing times than for hand-held phones. The delays offset the potential benefit of keeping both hands on the wheel, the report said.
The article goes on to say that auto companies are conducting their own studies:
Jeff Greenberg, director of Ford Motor Co.'s (Research) driving simulator, conducted several studies trying to break down which parts of cell- phone conversations impair drivers. It is too soon to know what to do, he said.
But of course, the Chicago city council doesn't have time to wait for things like results! There's accidents a-happenin'! They've gotta do SOMEthing! The article continues:
"The preponderance of evidence suggests that long conversations while driving impair your ability to react to events," Greenberg said, according to the paper. "But it would be difficult to make rules about conversations in vehicles."
Indeed. In general, I would rather punish people who violate other people's rights (e.g. by causing collisions) rather then legislate against behaviors which could cause collisions. On the other hand, if the roads were all privately owned (as they should be) I would grant that the owner has a right to ban whatever behaviors he feels are not in his interest and not in the interest of his paying customers, just as life insurance companies rightly charge higher rates for smokers. And from personal experience, it does seem to me that almost every time I see somebody driving like an idiot, I notice that the driver is talking on a cell phone. Therefore I think there may be room for some sort of legislation here, but not the hands-free ban, which will end up generating a lot of traffic tickets for good drivers, while doing nothing to prevent accidents caused by morons who are yapping on their hands-free cell phones. It will, of course, help to line the pockets of hands-free device manufacturers.

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