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Cell Phones and Driving: A Police Officer’s Thoughts

A Unique Perspective on Talking While Driving


Cell Phones, MP3 players, Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). All of these things are great to have. Most everyone has at least a Cell phone, if not all three of those items in one form or another, nowadays you can find all three in one device. While these were all created to allow people to be on the go more and accomplish more they are also adding to the already numerous hazards that already plague our nations Highways and Byways. As a Veteran Police Officer, all too often I see the gruesome and devastating aftermath of Driver inattention as the result of some type of digital device, be it a cell phone, PDA, etc.

There have been many tests conducted by various Insurance Institutes and even the famed Television Show Mythbusters. The test results are fairly consistent, in that someone talking on a cell phone has the same impairment levels of a driver with a BrAC (Breath Alcohol Content) of .05 or greater. For reference, most states, including Colorado, where I am police Officer .08 is DUI and .05 is Driving While Ability Impaired. That’s just talking on a cell phone. The latest phenomena are texting. Texting requires much more focus than talking. When you are texting you are first, reading messages sent to you by someone else. This takes your focus off the traffic conditions around you, second, you are typing. This is a bad idea. You wouldn’t use a typewriter while you were driving, would you? Of course not. So why do people text? The next time you are texting someone remembers this, at 60 MPH a car travels over 120 feet in 1.4 seconds. 1.4 seconds is the average time it takes an alert driver to react to a road hazard. Again you are not alert if you are not looking at the road. The human brain can only process so much information at one time so when you are trying to ‘compute’ the text message you just received, you are using the same brain processes that you need to process the traffic situation and your necessary actions to avoid hazards in the roadway that could result in you being involved in or causing a collision.

Due to the alarming increase that we as Law Enforcement have seen in what I would call “Technology related” traffic injuries and fatalities over the last 10 or so years has resulted in many states creating laws how and when cell phones can be used while operating a motor vehicle. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association five states, California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have enacted laws that prohibit the use of handheld cell phones while driving anywhere in the jurisdiction. This is a primary violation in all but Washington State, meaning a Law Enforcement Official needs no other reason to stop you and write you ticket for it. The GHSA also shows that there are special restrictions for Novice drivers in 17 states and the District of Columbia. New Jersey and Washington are the first two states to have enacted bans on texting. New Hampshire and Utah have taken more of a blanket approach to the problem and created distracted driving legislation. The next time you are thinking “Boy I really should Call, or text Joe Schmoe about that report that is due in the morning just remember where you are and perhaps pull off the roadway, because the kid on the bicycle that you ran over because you were busy talking or texting someone, has parents. And I was a police officer don’t want to have to tell his parents that someone was not paying attention and maimed or killed their child. You don’t want to live with that grief. As with most problems with today’s society, this one needs legislation, but it also needs some personal responsibility on the part of drivers. I admit that I am just as guilty as the next guy, I talk and drive sometimes when I don’t really have to. Please if you have to talk while you drive at least get a handsfree device and ask yourself, can this text message wait until I get caught at a red light or can this conversation wait until I pull into a parking spot at the mall or when I get home? Chances are it’s not that urgent and it can wait.

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