The Sheng Stance

Applauding the New Cell Phone Ban

Sometimes I see the strangest behavior from those behind the wheel: reading a book on the steering wheel, eating an ice cream cone, putting on powder foundation. Besides the fact that you’ll likely to ruin the car’s upholstery if you have to brake suddenly, it significantly decreases your focus on the only thing that is of utmost priority, driving safely. Luckily, Virginia has already banned texting and emailing while driving for all drivers (unlike the three states that don’t: Arizona, Missouri and Montana). However, Virginia is on track to finally institute hand-held cell phone bans like Maryland and Washington D.C. do. Our suburban lifestyles will finally be safer and healthier.

The Virginia General Assembly has already passed the bill (HB 1811) and the governor is expected to approve it. The bill officially stipulates that it is punishable by a first time fine of $125 if a driver uses any handheld personal communications device while operating a motor vehicle. A police officer need not witness any other traffic violation other than hand-held device use to pull you over (primary enforcement). This fine is set at the same levels ($125 for first time and $250 for subsequent offenses) as the prior texting ban. (Surprisingly, California’s first time offense fine is only $20). State law already mandates that it is illegal for those under 18 to use a cell phone while driving.

There is the loophole that you can just use Bluetooth and connect your phone to your car. This technically will allow many drivers to continue to call into radio stations or talk to friends. However, it might not be a loophole for long as the state later clarified that minors are prohibited from using both hand-held and hands-free devices.

Regardless, phone use is inevitably going to decrease. This makes the roads safer, theoretically. Interestingly, though, studies based on the 2006 California ban on hand-held cell phones have shown that the number of insurance claims before and after the law was minimal. However, this law will make the roads especially safer for motorcycles. Studies conducted by Florida Atlantic University for before and after similar bans have shown mixed results in overall fatalities, but a decrease as large as 11 percent in fatality rates in motorcycles.

What I think is the bigger benefit is the forcing of people to put down their cell phones. Although cliche, it does apply in this context: people are so focused on the destination that they forget the journey. In terms of driving, people are daydreaming and Snapchatting each other of their daily frustrations of waking up too late and rushing to school or their once in a lifetime vacations to Las Vegas. In between all this social media sharing, is the fact that to reach the point of interest, the car must safely avoid all other drivers and obstacles.

Moreover, this can deter people from recording dangerous behavior while driving. For example in 2015, a 18-year-old teenager caused a serious car crash when she tried to go over 100 mph in order to record it and share it on Snapchat. The victim suffered from traumatic brain injuries and has difficulty walking. As of now, the court case has not been settled yet in the Georgia state court system after being repealed and remanded. But this just shows the danger unrestricted cell phone can have on young adult drivers.

This proposed ban will increase public safety in the minds of all road users in the state. The next step that the state government should be considering is protecting bicyclists. Many times when they install a new bike path, it is little more than just painting a designated lane for bikes. Imagine how easily a wayward car can hit a bicyclist on that lane. Protected bike lanes–either with a concrete buffer separated or a street parking lane–can ease the minds of bicyclists and drivers sharing the roads.

Overall, the local government should remember to enforce this new cell phone ban. It seems like in states like New York, which has a similar ban, drivers are allowed to use their phone when stopped at a red light. This introduces the gray area of when a driver is technically driving at a stoplight and when a driver is not. The state should take a firm stance on this and conservatively fine those who touch their phone at anytime.