Driving While Using Cell Phones Dangers

It’s past time for debate on the foibles of cell phone use while driving. It’s dangerous. Period.

Yet he argued this with one mobile gabber as a passenger, as she swerved about while describing her day on-air. He thought she’d expel him but she drove so poorly that walking seemed preferable. So he spoke anyway. Just like tobacco and alcohol, this debate will rage for decades beyond when science resolves it. Why?

The dangers talking on cell phone while driving are easy to see.

Just try being a passenger sometime in a car where the driver is gabbing it up on their wireless phone.  Scientific studies aside for a moment: After observing many people driving while chatting or texting on cell phones, it’s clear that driving is definitely impaired; particularly when the conversation is emotionally charged in some way, like when a couple is arguing over the phone or dealing with an emergency.

Now, back to the studies: Actually, numerous large-scale observations and epidemeological numbers crunching suggest that when a person uses a cell phone while operating a moterized vehicle, they become more apt to have an accident than someone who is drunk. These works have been cited often on CNN, Dr. Phil, NBC’s Nightly News, and so on. Also, remember that numerous studies have also concluded that there’s no correlation between cigarrette smoking and lung cancer either.  Unfortunately,  it’s much harder these days for evolutionary forces to weed out idiocy from the species. But we can only hope that natural selection will take care of it. 🙂

Studies imply that even hands-free operation of cell phones impairs safe driving ability. While I’ll admit that voice-actuated, eye-free operation is safer than traditional phone-in-the-hand-with-button-pressing mode, cell phones still present many opportunities for distraction when complete attention to the road is critical; like when merging or exiting interstate highways, driving around the barrels in construction zones, avoiding black ice and pot holes, steering through wind gusts, and moving through heavy rain or snow storms with the windshield wipers flapping and the raindrops distorting the view. Since one or more of these adverse conditions can arise at any time and without much warning, IMHO, a driver’s attention needs to be focused on driving, with near minimal distractions.

More Distracting to Talk on Smart Phone than to a Passenger

Talking to someone on a cell phone differs from conversing with a passenger in that the person on the other end cannot tell when dynamic traffic conditions indicate that he should be silent. The driver must tell him, and this is just one more responsibility to tax the driver’s attention and slow his responses to the rapidly-changing road conditions mentioned above. The phone buddy keeps gabbing even though traffic signs may appear that the driver really should read and understand. Drivers tend to not perceive such info bits when absorbed in conversation on the phone.

Conversations with passengers are safer than those with folks on the cell phone, also,  because the passenger can observe the driver’s body language, and can also see the road conditions to the same degree that the driver does. So, when a attention-demanding situation occurs, the driver need not tell the passenger to be quiet, but might have to tell the person on the cell phone.  The person on the phone does not as directly observe the road conditions and can thus, unintentionally distract the driver with his banter. Also, a passenger’s voice demands less of the driver’s brain power to comprehend than a voice on a cell phone – hands-free or not. The audio in cell calls tends to be more muffled and constrained in audio frequency bandwidth and volume, and thus, is less intelligible than a voice on a radio, or a passenger’s voice for that matter. Additionally, intermittent cell signals often cause some words to be lost; there’s a lot of, “What did you say?” and “I can’t hear you” with cell phones that cause the driver to (albeit momentarily) direct his attention away from the road. In this way, even a hands-free cell phone conversation demands much more mental overhead than a direct verbal exchange with a passenger, and thus, places the driver as well as his passengers in greater peril.  The technology is not mature enough to be consider safe to use while driving.

All Distractions Pose Dangers

Yes, drivers are responsible for ignoring many distractions.  So why add to that already large list by talking on a cell phone while driving? Indeed, the with freedom comes responsibility.  But people often enjoy the freedom without actually shouldering this responsibility, as is the case for those phone gabbers on the road.

Ideally, a person should be able to self-police, and abstain from an action when what he’s considering is beyond his capability.    She may think she knows when she’s unable to operate a car safely while chatting, and perhaps many can.  In fact, drunk drivers invariably feel that they can safely drive a car while inebriated.  But while many boast that they can, many of those also prove that they cannot; they kill another with their car while gabbing.  People overestimate their multi-tasking abilities with cell phones as well.  So, they need regulated, and, unfortunate but true nonetheless,  if it takes a ban to do that, then that’s what should be done.

The bottom line: Anything that distracts the driver from the road enough to put others in peril when riding with him / her, not to mention those in other vehicles sharing the road with him,  is a bad thing and should be forbidden and punished severely.  That includes cell phones while driving.  Just ask anyone who has been injured by a cell phone wielding road warrior, and they likely feel the same.  If you need to use such devices then just pull over and stay off the rode until you’re done.

For more similar discussion see our   GPS Units Safer than Cell Phones  piece.

Suggested Reading


Revision History

  • 2015-12-04: Added appropriate tags.
  • 2014-12-25: Moved to the   Tom’s Tek Stop   blog, added whitespace, revised content, and adjusted ad placement. Revised content and moved the discussion about GPS units to the   GPS Units Safer than Cell Phones   post.
  • 2010-08-01: Originally published in the   Tom’s Views   blog.