Herald supports cellphone ban

The Herald editorial supports a cellphone use ban for drivers. I don’t agree of course.

Nonetheless, it is heartening to see Steven Joyce ready to act decisively to ban drivers from using hand-held cellphones. So dangerous is the practice and so widespread is the support for a ban that this issue should have been settled several years ago.

The practice is called dangerous, yet the actual accident rates from cellphone use is less than other distractions.

The appeal for a ban is based, first, on most people’s instinctive understanding that using a cellphone, whether for talking or texting, causes drivers to lose concentration.

Yes it does, but you can mitigate that risk. Talking to passengers can cause a loss of concentration also.

Virtually all comparable jurisdictions have stopped drivers using hand-held cellphones. Long ago, they dismissed the fuzzy notions that have delayed action here. Among those is the argument that cellphones are just one of a number of distractions, such as changing a CD or talking to passengers. But, unlike any other disturbance, cellphone use can be addressed simply. There is no need to treat it as just another distraction that must be tolerated.

Other distractions can be simply addressed. Smoking in cars can easily be banned. Stereo systems can be made illegal. Passengers can be banned. What is the logic to target cellphones only? What would be good to see is some research weighing up the costs and benefits of each type of distraction being banned.

If there is an element of controversy about Mr Joyce’s proposal, it lies in its restriction to hand-held cellphones. Much research has noted that the safety issue is not so much the holding of the phone as the decreased concentration caused by the conversation. If so, hands-free connections are equally dangerous. Nonetheless, it is fair to suggest that cellphones have become an essential instrument, especially for tradespeople. It is probably too late to ban them altogether, and the use of hands-free connections, which do not involve drivers looking down to make calls, probably represents a reasonable compromise.

And here is where I think the Herald’s arguments fall down. After stating all the reasons why cellphones should be banned in cars, they then agree it is not practical as cellphones have becom essential, and instead only ban hand held cellphones – despite acknowledging they are probably just as dangerous.

So the roads will be no safer, but we will feel we have done something. Wooly thinking which I expected better of from both the Government and the Herald.

Either have the courage of your convictions and ban cellphone use entirely, or don’t target them at all, and focus on a wider clampdown on all distractions.

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