Saturday, January 30, 2010

Blue Lights and Cell Phones

I was sitting at a traffic light on my way to school yesterday when a member of the local constabulary passed by in a cruiser. He had his blue lights on, but was driving at the speed limit, and he had his cell phone pressed to his ear.

Massachusetts has pending a law that makes it a ticketable offense to talk on a cell phone while driving, and it also has pending a law prohibiting texting. I mention this not to pass judgment on the officer for doing something that research has shown is dangerous. He may have had perfectly valid reasons for doing so, and the fact that I don’t know them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I bring it to light to demonstrate that, despite the fact that we all hear regularly of the dangers of driving while we’re distracted, we all--even those who are expected to model safe behavior--continue to engage in the practice.


I propose the following as reasons why we might do so, even when we know the risks:

1. We are habituated to answering our phone when it rings. So habituated, in fact, that it is instinctual in many cases for us to reach for it.

2. We believe that there are times when we don’t need to pay close attention to our driving, such as when we’re on the highway in light traffic or at a stop light, and that these times are more common than those when we must pay full attention behind the wheel.

3. We find it irritating/impractical/time consuming to pull over or find some other completely safe means of using the phone.

4. We believe there are times when the need to communicate takes a higher priority than the need to engage is completely safe driving practice.

If we accept these reasons as real (whether or not there are others), is it reasonable to expect that passing legislation prohibiting the use of cell phones or other distracting behavior is going to change the likelihood that it’s going to happen?


Mrs. Chili said...

I stand by my contention that the only thing cell phone legislation is going to do is to effectively increase the cost of the things. We'll pay the fines and be done with it; it won't change the behavior.

Wayfarer said...

I cannot help but wonder how we might change this kind of behavior. I'd love to hear some ideas from people (if you're reading this, this means you)!