Would ban of talking on handheld phones be enough to protect GA drivers?

A Georgia lawmaker has proposed banning all drivers from talking on handheld phones, but this may not address the larger issue of cognitive distraction.

In recent years, distracted driving has become a serious public safety threat. Distraction.gov reports that distraction-related crashes resulted in about 421,000 injuries and 3,328 fatalities in 2012 alone. Cellphones are a common cause of driver distraction, as many people in Macon know. For this reason, texting while driving is illegal in Georgia, and novice and bus drivers cannot use handheld phones. Still, state law does not address handheld phone use among other drivers.

This year, a state representative is introducing legislation to ban all drivers from talking on handheld cellphones, according to WSB Radio. This change could send a stronger message to young drivers, and it could reduce accidents; one study indicates crash risk increases fourfold when drivers talk on cellphones. Still, other research suggests that even a ban on handheld cellphone calls may not be enough to keep Georgia motorists safe.

Dangers of hands-free devices

Talking on hands-free cellphones is often viewed as a safer alternative to using handheld devices. However, research does not support this belief. According to U.S. News, more than 30 studies have found no significant safety benefits associated with hands-free devices; instead, these devices are just as distracting as handheld phones.

According to the National Safety Council, the underlying issue is cognitive distraction. Carrying on a conversation via any kind of cellphone while driving forces the brain to switch quickly between the two tasks. Talking to someone outside of a vehicle creates a greater distraction than talking to a passenger, since a passenger can observe and respond to changing traffic conditions and other distractions. People who talk on cellphones while driving exhibit all of the following impairments:

  • Delayed reaction times - one study found that drivers who are legally intoxicated actually show faster response times than drivers who are speaking on cellphones.
  • Inattention blindness - a driver who is focusing on a phone conversation may fail to process up to 50 percent of the things occurring in his or her immediate environment, including important visual cues.
  • Reduced visual processing - simply listening to human speech causes activity to fall 37 percent in the part of the brain that analyzes movement and plays a key role during driving.

Together, these factors raise the risk of serious and even fatal accidents. A ban on talking on handheld cellphones would represent a positive step, but such a ban may leave drivers exposed to other risky behaviors, especially since many drivers don't recognize the dangers of hands-free devices. According to U.S. News, one NSC poll found that 81 percent of drivers incorrectly think hands-free devices are safer, and 53 percent take the fact that these devices are built directly into vehicles as evidence that they are not dangerous.

Distraction as a form of negligence

Drivers who don't exercise due care and cause harm to others as a result may be found negligent and held liable for the injuries they cause. Even if a driver is engaging in an activity that is legal or that the driver believes to be safe, the driver may still be found at fault. Anyone who has been hurt in an accident caused by a distracted driver should consider discussing the situation and the possibility of pursuing compensation with an attorney.