Today is the first day of Ontario's new cell-phone-use-in-the-car law. The law states that drivers cannot use cell phones or GPSs, and similar devices in the car. First of all, I can't believe that we need a law to dictate such common sense. The fact the people talk, and, even worse, TEXT while they drive is absolutely appalling. The act of driving itself may be a relatively easy thing (for most of us, anyway), but driving in public, with other cars, cyclists, pedestrians, animals (like deer, moose, and squirrels), and roadwork to worry about is an entirely different matter. Driving requires real concentration. Failing to fully concentrate on your driving can lead to accidents; sometimes with tragic consequences.
So you might think that I'd be happy with the new law. But I'm not, and it's for one simple reason. The law doesn't go far enough. The new law basically states that if you're going to use a cell phone while driving, you need to use a hands-free device (e.g. Bluetooth headset), and you can't dial your phone while holding it. You need to mount it or buy some sort of fancy gizmo that dials your phone for you. So basically the moral of the story is that you can still use your cell phone while driving. It's just the way that you use it that's different. Well, here's a newsflash for you: using a hands-free device to talk on your cell phone while driving is just as bad.
I am ashamed to admit that about 7 years ago, I used to talk on my cell phone while driving. I remember one time being on the highway at 100km/h when my cell phone rang. It was on the passenger seat, and I answered it while on a curve. I CRINGE when I think about that time. How dangerous! And that was just the act of answering the phone. Talking on the phone was just as distracting. I didn't give the road the attention that it needed. How completely irresponsible of me! When I got a hands-free set for my cell phone, it was no better. Yes, it was easier to answer the phone, but I was still talking on the phone. I was still distracted, even with both hands on the wheel. When you're on the phone, regardless of whether or not you have a hands-free set, the minute you pick up that phone, you are enthralled in that conversation.
I would like to point out that I did see the light 7 years ago, and I no longer talk on my cell phone while driving. I don't care how urgent the call is. It can wait. I can't tell you how many times I've been on conference calls with people who said that they were dialing in from the road. And I'm pretty sure that they were driving at the same time. The thought of it makes me cringe.
I remember taking a human factors class when I was in university, and I remember the professor saying that studies showed that it made no difference if you spoke on your phone using a hands-free device while driving. He said that talking on the phone while driving versus talking to a person in the passenger seat while driving are entirely different. If you encounter a problem on the road while driving, the person on the passenger seat sees it too, and the conversation stops abruptly so that the driver can deal with the problem. If you're having the same conversation on the cell phone, the person on the other end has no idea what's happening on the road, and oftentimes, the driver is too uncomfortable to tell the person on the other line to hold on for a second while he or she deals with the driving problem at hand.
While the stuff that my professor said makes perfect sense, I don't think it's JUST that. Talking is distracting. Even talking to a person on the passenger seat. It's too easy to get sucked into an interesting conversation and to pay less attention to the road. Hell, even the radio can be distracting if you listen to a good radio show (like the stuff on CBC Radio One). I suppose that in the greater scheme of things, however, talking on the cell phone while driving is still way more distracting.
So in the end, this new law seems like a half-assed attempt to solve a very serious problem. I guess the one good thing is that it at least stops the half-wits who text and drive at the same time. That is, until some company comes up with a big shiny panel that you can attach to your dashboard that interfaces with your phone and lets you check e-mails and send texts. And I'm pretty sure that that already exists...