The Colorado Legislature will consider a measure this session that would limit drivers' use of cell phones. With studies showing that driving while distracted by the devices compromises safety, bolstered by anecdotal evidence witnessed by anyone who has driven in the last 10 years, it makes sense to place some restrictions on the combination.
Introduced by Boulder Democrat Rep. Claire Levy, the bill would prohibit drivers younger than 18 - as well as school bus drivers, or those who drive a publicly regulated vehicle - from using cell phones at all, and would require all other drivers to use hands-free devices when talking on their phones while driving. Those are reasonable requirements that would improve safety for everyone on the road.
There is ample research linking diminished driving abilities with cell phone use in young drivers. This connection reflects a pattern among drivers who are just learning how to negotiate roads and their associated hazards and distractions - and has sparked a trend of graduated licensing for teen drivers across the country. With limits on the ages and number of people allowed to ride with newly licensed drivers, as well as the times of day such young people are allowed to be on the road unaccompanied by adults, a measure to eliminate additional - and perhaps more dangerous - distractions is wise. Banning cell phone use at all for drivers younger than18 will help them focus on the primary and inherently dangerous task of operating their vehicles - and that will produce better drivers over the long term.
So, too, will requiring other drivers to use hands-free devices such as speakers or ear pieces when chatting behind the wheel. Some studies show that talking on a cell phone - handheld or hands-free - while operating a vehicle produces driving as dangerous as that demonstrated by those driving under the influence of alcohol. Diminished braking reaction and higher numbers of accidents are associated with drive-time cell phone use, according to a University of Utah study comparing the two behaviors - findings that have influenced laws in six states that are similar to the proposal legislators are considering in Colorado.
While the study suggested that drivers are distracted when talking on cell phones regardless of whether they are holding the phone or gripping the wheel with both hands, it follows that having both hands available for driving-related tasks will improve drivers' focus over the alternative. Requiring hands-free devices is a decent compromise in any case - one that will not eliminate cell phone-related traffic accidents, but is likely to reduce them somewhat while, at the same time, making attentive driving a priority.
Opposition to Levy's measure falls mainly in the "it goes too far" category - an unconvincing argument for a law that would fine violators $100. That is a relatively small price to pay for failing to take minor precautions for the safety of drivers, passengers and pedestrians on Colorado's roads. The Colorado Legislature should join California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Utah and Washington in restricting cell phone use by drivers. There is little to lose by doing so.