Driving With Cellphones: Why Are So Many People Still Doing It?

We all know that using a handheld cellphone to talk, text, or surf the Web while driving is dangerous and unsafe. We’ve heard the statistics that say a texting driver is 23 times more likely to get involved in an accident than a typical driver. We’ve read the news stories about deadly crashes that were caused by someone fiddling with their cellphone.

Most states have enacted laws banning texting while driving. Some have even outlawed handheld cellphone use behind the wheel altogether. Penalties for distracted driving involving cellphones are increasing across the country. If you get a ticket for texting and driving, your auto insurance rates are sure to rise.

So why do we still see people using their cellphones while driving?

To find the answer, let’s consider the history of two other driving-related behaviors: seat belt usage and drinking and driving.

Seat belt usage for drivers has been a requirement in the U.S. for over a quarter century. But in the 1970s and 1980s, there was resistance by some people who didn’t want to wear their seat belts, despite the mountains of data demonstrating the safety advantages of doing so. Only after extensive public awareness campaigns and enforcement of seat belt laws did seat belt usage in the U.S. climb above 90%.

Drinking and driving is still a problem today. But there was a time when people didn’t associate alcohol consumption with an increased prevalence of motor vehicle collisions. It took years of public service announcements, grassroots campaigns, and stricter law enforcement crackdowns on drunk drivers for this behavior to become socially unacceptable.

And that’s the key to stopping cellphone use while driving: transforming the perception of the behavior from its current state of acceptability to one of intolerability. It’s not something that will happen overnight. But here are some possible tactics which could be employed to achieve this goal:

  1. Raise awareness. This means an increase in billboards, radio ads, and TV commercials highlighting the dangers of handheld cellphone use while driving.
  2. Enact legislation. Some municipalities are starting to impose tougher penalties (such as prison time) for distracted driving whenever handheld cellphone use is associated with an accident that causes injuries or fatalities.
  1. Enlist the help of cellphone companies. Urge them to include “use cellphones responsibly” in their advertisements and contribute to public awareness campaigns. Or force them to contribute to a fund which finances “anti-cellphone use while driving” ads (much like tobacco companies do for “stop smoking” campaigns).
  1. Enlist the help of wireless carriers. Sometimes, it’s hard to prove in court that a driver was using a cellphone when an accident occurred. Set up a system to make it easier for law enforcement to check cellphone records to determine if a driver was using a wireless network at the time a crash took place.
  1. Jam signals. A more radical approach would be to install a device on all new vehicles that would jam the cellphone signals from inside a vehicle while it is in motion. However, that would also prevent hands-free systems from operating and prohibit passengers from using their cellphones, too.


Which means every car trip with your children will look like this (see above).

Cellphones and smartphones are still relatively new to America. So it will take some time before existing attitudes change regarding the use of handheld cellphones behind the wheel – and the perils that it can cause.

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