The Obama administration might call for an outright ban on cell phone use by drivers, setting up a potential showdown between safety and personal freedom advocates. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he wants people at the wheel paying attention to the road, not talking on the phone or texting — both which have been shown to increase accident risk. Washington could pressure states to go along by withholding federal highway funds from those who don't comply. But critics say cell phones are no worse than other common distractions, such as radios. Would banning cell phones — including hands-free models — for vehicle operators make U.S. highways safer?
No, this "draconian" plan would do more harm than good: "America's Nanny-in-Chief is at it again," says Bob Barr at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. LaHood's "crusade" against texting while driving was bad enough, but this "draconian" ban is ridiculous. It won't make roads safer — cell phone bans in three states didn't reduce accidents — it's just the latest "intrusion by the federal government" into a matter better left up to the states.
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Actually, the research is on LaHood's side: Sorry, but talking on the phone is distracting, says Eric Jaffe at The Infrastructurist. Researchers have found drivers chatting on the phone — hands-free or hand-held — "missed twice as many traffic lights as those who weren't." And listening to the radio or books on tape didn't have the same effect. Statistics suggest the battle against texting while driving is saving lives, so LaHood is just trying to "strike while the iron is hot."
Right or wrong, this would be tough to enforce: "Don't adopt the 'You can pry my iPhone from my cold dead hands' attitude just yet," says Jeff Glucker at Autoblog. LaHood hasn't said he will do this — he just wants information on whether it would make the roads safer. But if he does decide to push for a ban he "has quite an uphill battle on his hands," because "the practice is so deeply ingrained" it will be hard to get drivers to hang up their phones for good.
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