Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Cell phone ban spreads

California joins Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia with a new law banning cell phone use while driving, unless it's a hands-free unit.

California's ban unquestionably will encourage other states to follow in due course with similar laws. Idaho should be among them.

The new laws will create a mushrooming demand for hands-free cell phones with new headset technology that makes cell phone use safer and more convenient.

Hard and fast statistics on accidents caused by drivers using cell phones are difficult to compile. But various U.S. and international studies conclude that cell phones distract drivers, which leads to poor lane-keeping, following too close, poor braking in traffic.

One study estimates that drivers using cell phones are 4.3 times more at risk of having an accident.

The Idaho Transportation Department gives some clue to accidents among cell phone users. In its 2005 accident summary, 16 percent of the state's fatal accidents and 24 percent of its injury accidents involved driver inattention and distraction.

Cell phones are virtually indispensable in workaday America. Drivers can conduct time-saving business while on the road.

But because driving in today's high-speed traffic is a risky adventure in any event, adding a margin of safety by requiring cell phone users to keep both hands on the steering wheel is a necessity that only state laws can impose.

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