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Driving and Phone Use 

In the United States, 96% of people own a mobile phone. Increased reliance on cell phones has led to a rise in the number of people who use them while driving.  

There are two dangers with driving and using a cell phone. First, drivers must take their eyes off the road while using the phone. Second, people can become so absorbed in their conversations or texting that their ability to concentrate on the act of driving is severely impaired. 

Since the first law banning hand-held cell phone use while driving was passed in New York in 2001, there has been debate as to the exact nature and degree of hazard. At first, safety experts focused on the problem as part of the larger one of driver distractions in general. These can include anything that reduces driver concentration on road hazards such as drinking coffee, playing with the audio system, or talking with another passenger. 

Now there is increasing evidence that the dangers associated with cell phone use outweigh those of other distractions. Safety experts also acknowledge that the hazard posed by cell phone use is not eliminated, and may even be increased, by the use of hands-free sets. 

The distraction of cell phones and other wireless devices (dialing, listening, talking or texting) is second only to daydreaming as a cause for fatal car crashes. One in ten people have been involved in a car crash where at least one driver was distracted. There is no way to safely use a cell phone and pay attention to the road simultaneously. Both are thinking tasks, and human beings cannot concentrate equally on two thinking tasks. The idea that people can multitask is a myth! 

Many studies have shown that using hand-held cell phones while driving can constitute a hazardous distraction. What about a hands-free phone? Studies show the use of hands-free sets may even be worse. According to the National Safety Council, drivers in the middle of a cell phone conversation can miss up to 50% of what’s happening around them, including pedestrians, billboards, or other roadside features. 

Cell phones play an integral role in our society. However, the convenience they offer must be judged against the hazards they pose. The number of state legislatures debating measures that address the problem of cell phone use while driving continues to rise. Currently, nineteen states ban the use of hand-held cell phones, and 48 states ban texting while driving. Teen drivers have even stricter laws to follow. 

The U.S. is not the only country with laws about cell phone use while driving. As many as 30 other countries restrict or prohibit the use of driving and dialing with penalties that include fines, loss of the driver’s license, and/or jail time.

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