Talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving is currently illegal in nine states, and texting while driving is illegal in thirty-four. Both laws could be the most widely ignored since Prohibition or the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit, but that may change if New York representative Carolyn McCarthy gets her way. The Democratic Congresswoman has sponsored a bill that that would ultimately ban the use of hand-held phones by drivers nationwide, except in clearly defined emergencies.
Citing Department of Transportation statistics that attribute 5,400 deaths in 2009 to distracted driving, McCarthy said, “Driving while making a phone call, texting or using apps can be as dangerous as driving drunk, and much more common. With some basic common-sense rules that are already in place in some parts of the country, we can reduce injuries and save lives in America.”
The bill allows the use of cell phones when paired to hands-free devices, at least for the time being. It also requires the DOT to study whether talking on the phone at all poses a safety risk behind the wheel, due to something called “cognitive distraction.” Like a computer, the human brain only has so much processing power, and certain studies have shown that any use of cell phones while driving poses a significant risk to safety.
Should the DOT’s study conclude the same thing, further restrictions could be imposed on in-vehicle infotainment systems. That puts automakers directly in the crossfire between the technology that customers demand and the technology that the DOT will allow.