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Published: Saturday, 9/20/2008

The cell phone distraction

VOTERS in Bowling Green will have the chance to make the roads a little safer in May by approving a ban on the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.

City council members voted this week to put to voters the question of what to do about the growing number of people who dial, redial, check caller ID, and send and receive text messages while they are supposed to be paying attention to 3,000 pounds of metal and plastic traveling at speeds of 30, 40, or 50 miles per hour or more.

Driver distractions have been around since the first time one of our distant ancestors hitched a horse, donkey, ox, or water buffalo to a cart and took off down the local footpath. These days, we can't help but be alarmed by the number of people eating, putting on make-up, disciplining children, reading (that's right, reading - not glancing at a map or looking at directions but reading a newspaper or book), and otherwise engaging their hands and minds on tasks other than driving.

Unfortunately, those activities are so much a part of our culture that strictly enforcing bans on them would be as difficult as, say, prohibiting alcohol. But hand-held cell phones are not yet so ingrained that they cannot be effectively regulated.

In 1999, Brooklyn, in northeast Ohio, became the first U.S. city to ban the use of cell phones while driving. Since then, North Olmsted and Walton Hills, Ohio, have followed suit. Other cities with cell phone restrictions include Chicago; Detroit; Santa Fe; Brookline, Mass., and Lebanon, Conshohocken, and West Conshohocken, Pa.

California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, Utah, and New York also have banned the devices statewide, as have the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, and a number of foreign countries, including France, Germany, Denmark, Kenya, Russia, Finland, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Netherlands, Israel, and Poland.

Five states - Alaska, Minnesota, New Jersey, Washington, and Louisiana - have banned text messaging while driving, which also would be included in the Bowling Green prohibition.

Human nature being what it is, few people involved in accidents actually own up to having been talking or texting on their phone at the time. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that a driver using a hand-held cell phone is four times as likely to be involved in an accident as a driver who's actually paying attention to the road.

The best solution to this growing threat to highway safety would be for lawmakers to ban throughout the state the use of hand-held devices while driving. Until that time comes, voters in Bowling Green should take advantage of the opportunity afforded to them in May to make their roads safer for all of us.



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