Are Cell Phone Bans the Answer?

As we have written about previously, many jurisdictions in the United States and across the world have been introducing legislation relating to the use of mobile phones when driving.

The exact nature of legislation can vary significantly between different jurisdictions, both in terms of the offence and the associated penalties. There can also be a great disparity in how enthusiastically these laws are enforced from state to state.

With such legislation, there is always a danger that it is implemented in a ‘knee-jerk’ manner, and may not fully address the dangers posed by use of elctronic devices within vehicles, or may be so broadly defined that they can become impractical to enforce. Combine this with the massive variations in laws between jurisdictions and it becomes very dificult to expect drivers to be able to keep informed of the current legislative situation.

Another danger is that people react negatively to what they see as an example of  legislation – aimed at stopping the irresponsible activity of a ‘small’ percentage of drivers – impacting on the whole driving population. There are situations where use of a mobile phone may be neccessary – furthermore, identification of offenders and practical enforcement of these laws can only be patchy at best.

Is it even neccessary to have such specifically worded legislation when many countries have offences such as ‘unsafe driving’ or ‘driving without due care and attention’ on their statutes? 

Distraction, Technology and Education

Technologies that purely disable a device when in motion don’t really provide a suitable answer as they cannot account for situations such as ‘passenger’ or ’emergency’ use without providing an override feature of some kind. Many devices aimed at preventing or restricting mobile use depend on a similar kind of ‘opt-in’ mechanism to be effective. Researchers for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (iihs.org), a non-profit group financed by insurance companies, tested some of these applications and has concluded that they were “difficult to use, often unreliable, and easily overridden,” according to Russ Rader, a spokesman for the group.

Many people argue that the real answer lies in education and personal responsibility. Bans are difficult to implement, particularly with the introduction of more and more ‘social’ enabling technology within mobile devices and vehicles. They also argue that the people most likely to use cell phones whilst driving are also the most likely to ignore legislation aimed at them.

Distraction takes many forms, and the most damaging distractions are those involving cognitive, visual AND manual distraction.

Various studies have shown that simply talking ‘hands-free’ does not significantly increase distraction in itself, and there is still more work required to establish the exact permutations of cell phone use that contribute most to distraction.

Dangerous Distractions


It is, however, established that activities involving the three main forms of distraction, of which texting and computer use are two examples, definitely DO cause dangerous levels of driver distraction. Even within this area, there are certain computer functions or certain groups of drivers that may have to be excluded from the legislation (e.g. emergency responders have specific requirements, and Australian law permits neccessary use of features such as reversing cameras, aids to navigation and dispatch systems).

Legislate or Educate?

Given all of the above, there is a growing number of people who feel that better education and training will provide the only sensible long-term answer to the dangers of distracted driving.

For example, technology experts at Volvo have publicly expressed an opinion that banning mobile phone use in cars isn’t the right move and have criticised calls to ban mobile phones from cars as unnecessary.

Thomas Broberg, a senior safety adviser with Swedish car maker Volvo, says the suggestion that Australia consider introducing a national ban on mobile phone use in cars would not be something his company — renowned for its focus on safety —  would support.

‘‘There’s always other sources of distraction that we have to drive with. [Mobile phone use] in cars is always going to be a very tricky issue, but we need to educate and promote good behaviour rather than just ban things,’’ he says.

The practical benefits of legislation and driver education are certainly areas that require deeper investigation, if we are to develop effective policies to reduce or eliminate the dangers posed by driver distraction. Perhaps a combination of better education, specific driver training, effective company policy, carefully crafted legislation AND personal responsibility will be the only answer in the long term.

About Blank-IT:

Blank-IT is designed specifically to address the problem of driver distraction and use of in-car and in-cab computers and laptops. It is easily installed, doesn’t rely on 3rd party input such as GPS and is fully customisable for different working environments.

Find out more today at Blank-IT – or contact us on 08 9486 7122 (if calling from outside Australia: +61 8 9486 7122).

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