Skip to content
Topics
Stories

Would cellphone ban dial back ‘distracted driving’?

The National Trans­porta­tion Safety Board (NTSB) — an inde­pen­dent fed­eral agency respon­sible for inves­ti­gating trans­porta­tion acci­dents and pro­moting trans­porta­tion safety — called for a com­plete end to cell­phone use while dri­ving, as opposed to bans in some states that still allow talking on hands-​​free devices. Here, Judith Per­rolle, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of soci­ology and an expert on the social impact of tech­nology, explains the dan­gers of using a cell­phone on the road, safer tech­nology alter­na­tives and the soci­etal impact of such a ban.

Why has the NTSB called for a complete ban on cellphone use while driving?

The problem with cell­phone use by dri­vers is part of what trans­porta­tion safety experts refer to as “dis­tracted dri­ving.” Auto­mo­biles are the most dan­gerous tech­nology in the United States, leading to the deaths of more than 33,000 people last year. The NTSB esti­mates that dis­tracted dri­ving was the cause of about 10 per­cent of fatal acci­dents. Despite claims by some researchers, most studies show that humans are not really very good at mul­ti­tasking. Cell­phone use causes most people to take their hands, their eyes and their atten­tion away from dri­ving. Also, many hands-​​free sys­tems are not really hands-​​free, but rather, require users to look at or handle their phone for some tasks.

What are the challenges of implementing such a drastic societal change?

People who use their cell­phones for work and while dri­ving would be seri­ously incon­ve­nienced by a more wide­spread adop­tion of the hands-​​free ban. For most, how­ever, ban­ning cell­phone use while dri­ving would not be a drastic change, espe­cially for those who are already unable to use their cell­phones at work for per­sonal calls, on air­planes or in other set­tings. According to the NTSB, 70 per­cent of U.S. states already ban tex­ting while dri­ving, and 60 per­cent ban cell use by new dri­vers. One in five states cur­rently bans hands-​​free cell­phone use.

What improvements can be made to digital technology to enable drivers to talk safely on the road?

An obvious improve­ment would be inter­faces that are eyes-​​free as well as hands-​​free, allowing people to listen to calls and mes­sages and to con­verse or send mes­sages by speaking to their phone or to a built-​​in inter­face in their vehicle. Inter­faces like Apple’s new Siri system and some of the on-​​board sys­tems cur­rently being planned for cars could solve part of the dis­tracted driver problem. But even an eyes– and hands-​​free system would not nec­es­sarily focus dri­vers’ atten­tion on the rather dull busi­ness of dri­ving a vehicle safely instead of the more inter­esting activity of inter­acting with friends and family. Per­haps devel­op­ments in dri­ver­less vehi­cles will solve the problem by let­ting us all become pas­sen­gers on safer roads. Or we could just take public transportation.

– by Kara Shemin

More Stories

Racial justice protests were not a major cause of COVID-19 infection surges, new national study finds

08.11.2020

Here’s what could happen if the U.S. suspends federal pandemic unemployment benefits

08.10.2020

Black women asked their party for what they wanted. What happens next?

08.13.20
In the News