More fuel to cellphone ban debate

Thursday, September 27, 2007

California, considered a trend-setter in many things, some good, some bad -- depending on your point of view -- has made history again. Last week, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law legislation banning teen drivers from using all electronic devices--including cellphones, pagers, personal digital assistants and laptop computers--while behind the wheel.

The new law kicks in on July 1, 2008, the same date as a separate law requiring all drivers to use hands-free devices for cellular calls on the road. Violation of either law carries a $20 fine for the first offense and $50 for each additional offense. Both laws make exceptions for 911 emergency calls.

California joins 15 states and he District of Columbia have laws prohibiting the use of mobile communication devices by teen drivers. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, the District of Columbia and various cities have driver hand-held bans in place.

The legislation was enacted after the California Highway Patrol revealed that mobile-phone use is a leading cause of distracted-driver accidents in the state, as well as a Ford Motor Co. study that concluded teenage drivers are four times more distracted than adult drivers. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 16 to 20 year olds, accounting for 44% of teen fatalities annually in the United States, according to statistics cited by Schwarzenegger. Teens comprise only 6.3% of the nation's licensed drivers, but account for nearly 14% of all fatal crashes. About 6,000 teenage drivers die every year, a figure representing a higher percentage than highway fatalities of drivers aged 25 to 69.

Look for this to add fuel to the debate in Iowa to enact more restrictions on young drivers. One of the restrictions being discussed by legislative study committees is to ban the use of mobile communication devices.

Distracted driving is a danger that all drivers and passengers need to be aware of. Advances in automotive and safety technology have encouraged a false sense of security in drivers of all ages. Teens and the elderly are the first to have their driving privileges restricted, but what affects one driver affects all drivers.

It only takes a second to change lives forever.