Q: For years I have wondered why the use of cellphones is not jammed when the vehicle’s wheels are in motion. The U.S. government has had the ability and technical know-how to jam the airwaves since World War II. Why was this not done? Why have people been maimed and killed, caused by continued use of cellphones for calling or texting?
A: Why hasn’t some type of electronic control over cellphone operation while the vehicle is moving been implemented? At this stage I would have to say the primary reason is that we, the American motorist, do not want to have cellphone use while driving regulated. We believe we are entirely capable of multitasking with a cellphone while driving and choose to deny and/or ignore the seemingly obvious risks. Want proof? A significant number of motorists and passengers still fail to buckle up!
And you know what? Many motorists are completely successful in using their cellphones while driving — right up to the moment of impact! As I’ve said in this column so many times before, we are numb to the inherent danger of traveling in a motor vehicle. We can’t really visualize what happens in a collision with an obstacle or another vehicle. We can’t conceive of the incredible violence of sudden deceleration from even 30 mph to zero in 18 inches. We can’t or choose not to understand what can happen to the human body in a crash. And of course, we firmly believe it can only happen to the “other guy.”
Human nature at its best and worst.
To the technical aspect of disabling cellphones while the vehicle is in motion, there are way too many necessary “exceptions: 911 calls while driving to report a crash or dangerous driver. Passengers who want/need to communicate with others while riding in a motor vehicle. Professional drivers communicating with their dispatcher/employer/boss while driving. Law enforcement and first responders needing to communicate up-to-the-date information.
And how popular do you think disabling cellphones would be to businessmen or politicians riding in the back seat of a chauffeured vehicle? Motorists are simply not going to accept a one-size-fits-all policy of disabling all cellphones operating from a moving vehicle.
I wish I had the answer, but of course I don’t. I can tell you that when training law enforcement and emergency vehicle operators it was relatively simple to demonstrate the dangers of talking while driving — call them on the radio just as they are about to brake from speed for a corner. They quickly realized that talking while actively changing the vehicle’s speed or path led to major driving errors, but that waiting to operate the radio/cellphone until driving in a straight line with no immediate driving action necessary significantly reduced stress, risk and mistakes.
Statistics from the general public would seem to tell us we are not capable of recognizing the distinction.
From James Barends: “The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has been researching this issue especially with regards to young drivers. The No. 1 cause of reported accidents for the under-25 age bracket is texting and cellphone use, except for one significant category — vehicles with manual transmissions, because of two factors. Manual transmissions require two hands and unless you are a god or goddess, that effectively eliminates texting. Also, young drivers tend to need years of experience before it becomes second nature to drive, and the constant demands of a manual force them to focus. That reduces the impact of distraction.”
I couldn’t agree more. Driving a vehicle with a manual transmission requires knowledge, experience, coordination and focus — in other words, the driver is fully involved and engaged in operating the vehicle. Not so much with today’s automatic transmission vehicles — seems like the driver is more of a supervisor with time, opportunity and temptation for distraction.