Feature

Telling drivers to hang up their cell phones

Can headsets make chatting motorists safer?

What happenedWashington and California on Tuesday joined three other states by requiring drivers to use headsets if they talk on cell phones while driving. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) In California, teenagers face fines for using a phone at all at the wheel. (San Diego Union Tribune)

What the commentators saidCalifornia’s $20 fines might not be much of a deterrent, said Michael Arrington of the TechCrunch blog in The Washington Post. But dirty looks from other motorists will make chatty drivers comply. The trouble is, some studies suggest that talking on hands-free devices regularly is just as distracting, and dangerous, as using a hand-held phone.

“It's common sense that drivers with two hands on the wheel have more control,” said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. Anything that diverts a driver’s attention from the road is dangerous. Only time will tell whether the new laws save lives—but getting drivers to hang up is a logical move to make roads safer as people caught in worsening traffic try to make “lost time productive.”

“Being behind the wheel is no time for multi-tasking,” said the Salt Lake City Deseret News in an editorial. Skeptics say the laws will have little effect on highway safety because drivers still have plenty of distractions—including hands-free phones. But Insurance Institute statistics show that people using hand-held cell phones are four times more likely to crash than other drivers.

“The prevalence of Bluetooth sets may prevent car crashes,” said Michelle Durand in the San Mateo County, Calif., Daily Journal, but now that they have to wear them to talk while driving, people will never take them off. So now we’ll be treated to more people than ever blabbering to no one, and making everyday life unbearable for the rest of us.

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