AAA-FTS study shows ‘hands-free doesn’t mean risk free’; distractions go beyond texting and cellphone use, as City of Troy’s own distracted driving ordinance already shows
Banning hand-held cellphones is a start. It will certainly help to prevent distracted driving auto accidents.
But is it the best, most effective way to prevent distracted driving car accidents?
I don’t think so.
“Hands-free” sounds safe. But “hands-free” is not as safe as many people think and it does nothing to stop many other cellphone-related driving distractions.
That’s why when I’ve been interviewed on the subject as a car accident attorney and as the current President of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association, I’ve been a staunch and vocal proponent of states like Michigan getting tougher on distracted drivers (and Michigan can be doing much more than it currently is to stop texting and driving related automobile accidents).
Bills like Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy)’s distracted driving proposal sound good. But they don’t incorporate much of the latest scientific and human factors research into the causes and sources of distracted driving behind the wheel.
On September 8, 2016, Rep. Howrylak announced that he would soon be introducing distracted driving legislation proposing that:
“[A] driver may only use a portable electronic device while operating a motor vehicle if the device is in hands-free mode.”
However, according to a story by John Turk of The Oakland Press, there is an exception to Rep. Howrylak’s proposal to prohibit drivers “from holding or using a portable electronic device any time they’re driving”:
The distracted driving proposal “allows for drivers to use a single swipe or tap to control a cell phone or device as long as the device is mounted somewhere within the driver’s eye line.”
Ways to Improve Rep. Howrylak’s distracted driving bill
Below are some of the reasons I think this Troy lawmaker’s proposal is not the best way to prevent distracted driving car accidents.
Hands-free cellphone use doesn’t mean risk-free
At first glance, it seems to make sense that hands-free cellphone use would be safer than hand-held cellphone use.
But one of the country’s foremost traffic safety authorities have told us otherwise.
In my blog post, “Does ‘hands-free’ driving mean risk-free?,” I talked about the AAA-Foundation for Traffic Safety’s “cognitive distraction” study and its perspective-changing conclusions about hands-free driving:
- “[H]ands-free does not mean risk-free”;
- “The lessons learned from the current research suggest that … the impairments to driving [resulting from ‘voice-based interaction’] … may rise to the level associated with drunk driving …”; and,
- Car makers and cell phone companies should be cautious because “a rush” to include “voice-based systems in the vehicle may have unintended consequences that adversely affect traffic safety.”
Why not ban all cellphone use while driving?
We require our young drivers to abstain completely from using a cellphone while driving.
Why not extend this to all drivers?
Under Kelsey’s Law, MCL 257.602c, teen drivers with a Level 1 or Level 2 graduated license “shall not use a cellular telephone while operating a motor vehicle upon a highway or street.”
The law defines “use” as “initiat[ing] a call; answer[ing] a call; or listen[ing] to or engag[ing] in verbal communication through the cellular telephone.” Notably, Kelsey’s Law doesn’t apply to “an individual using a voice-operated system that is integrated into the motor vehicle.”
To honor Kelsey Raffaele, whose tragic death in a cellphone-related crash inspired the law, we have created the “Kelsey’s Law Scholarship: Stop Distracted Driving Contest.”
What about distractions I see driving to work every morning like eating while driving?
Given that Rep. Howrylak represents Troy, Michigan, in the House, I was very surprised by what he did not include in his anti-distracted driving proposal.
Why? Because the City of Troy has one of most expansive, all-encompassing distracted driving prohibitions in Michigan – if not the country.
As I wrote in my September 8, 2011, blog post, “Troy, Michigan distracted driving law”:
“The Troy ordinance is the first of its kind in Michigan. It’s my hope that one day, the same logic will be applied to the entire state of Michigan.”
Significantly, beyond texting and hand-held cellphone use, Troy’s distracted driving ordinance prohibits drivers from performing any of the following “actions” while driving:
“[E]ating, reading, writing, performing personal hygiene/grooming, physical interaction with pets, passengers, or unsecured cargo …”
The ordinance is clear that the above list of “actions” is not exhaustive. It instructs that the “Distracted Driving” that drivers “shall not engage in” includes:
“Any action by the driver of a motor vehicle that diverts his or her attention resulting in the failure to use due care and caution in the safe operation of a motor vehicle while the vehicle is in motion on any highway or street or place open to the general public within the City of Troy.”
These key provisions of the Troy ordinance, grounded in safety and supported by scientific research, haven’t made it into Rep. Howrylak’s own proposal to reduce distracted driving.
It’s hard to assume the Troy lawmaker doesn’t know about the Troy ordinance. Hopefully, these additional provisions will be added to the bill, now or once the proposal is officially introduced in the House of Representatives (hint).