Using a cell phone while driving a car or truck in Southfield, Michigan could now cost you a $100 fine. The Southfield City Council has approved an ordinance that makes using a cell phone while committing a traffic violation such as causing a car accident, speeding or any other driving violation a civil infraction, with a penalty of as much as $100. The ordinance is to be enacted at the Southfield city council’s Oct. 8 meeting and then go into effect later in the month of October 2007. This would make Southfield the first city in Michigan to ban cell phone use. It is about time.
Scientific published evidence shows a clear association between using a cell phone and an increased risk of both causing a car accident and being involved in an accident. Lawyers who handle car accidents know about these studies, and many people in the public have a vague understanding that using a cell phone adds distraction or may be dangerous, but this dangerous practice has not been attacked by the public or the politicians in the same way that drinking and driving has. And that is unfortunate, as the scientific literature shows that using a cell phone while driving a car is not just dangerous, but it is as dangerous as driving a car while drunk driving.The same people now expressing displeasure with the City of Southfield’s decision to ban cell phones would never drink and drive or get behind the wheel of a car intoxicated. These people should understand that the risks and dangers are nearly identical with drunk driving and cell phone use.
The lawyers at Michigan Auto Law have always advised people not to drive using handheld cell phones. There are established links between driving with a handheld cell phone and causing otherwise preventable car accidents that have now led other states and countries to impose bans and restrictions on their use. One famous 1997 study from the New England Journal of Medicine studied 699 drivers who had cell phones and were involved in causing motor vehicle accidents. The researchers found that the risk of a collision was four times higher than the risk of not using a cell phone. See Association between Cellular Telephone Calls and Motor Vehicle Collisions, 336 New Eng. J. Med. 453 (1997).Research in 2002 compared the effects of talking on a cell phone while driving to driving by impaired, intoxicated drivers. The researchers found significant issues involving speeding, control of the car, warning detection, and driver responsiveness when using a handheld cell phone. The researchers found that reaction times were significantly slower in drivers using cell phones than with those impaired by alcohol who were drunk driving.
Compared to alcohol, the main problem with cell phones is the greater likelihood of completely missing a warning sign, which explains why drivers with cell phones are actually more likely to be involved in a car accident. See How Dangerous is Driving with a Mobile Phone? Benchmarking the Impairment to Alcohol, by Burns, et al., Transp. Res. Lab. (2002). It is about time that Michigan joins other states, such as New York, which passed a ban in 2002 on the use of handheld cell phones while operating any car or truck except in an emergency. There has been a total failure by the Michigan Legislature to take action and address cell phones. Until the politicians are willing to take action, Michigan lawyers exploring whether a cell phone was a cause of a car accident and taking steps in legal discovery to reveal its use and role in a car accident will remain the only deterrent to this dangerous and still too common conduct.