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Editorial: On the road, mad multi-tasking must stop

Every time a person is needlessly killed on the road, a small city dies with them: family, friends, loved ones, co-workers, acquaintances. Even strangers who read the news, sink a bit and sigh, “too young, so many children, so unfair.”

“Save our city,” in the words of the The Doors, a legendary rock band that couldn’t save itself. “Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel.”

Last month, just before Christmas, two southern New Hampshire residents, former Amherst fire chief John Bachman and Katie Hamilton, a Brookline mother of three, were killed by vehicles whose drivers were distracted, one while reading a text message on his cell phone, the other by a distraction yet to be determined.

We may never know exactly how many of the 122 fatal crashes that occurred in New Hampshire last year were at least in part due to the use of a cell phone or some other device while driving. So far, the police have attributed 14 to distracted driving. Yet it’s safe to say that cell phone use played a role in scores of non-fatal accidents, everything from fender-benders to bicyclists run off the road.

The mad multi-tasking has got to stop.

The Legislature will soon take up two bills restricting or banning the use of cell phones and other devices while driving. One would prohibit the use of hand-held phones while driving by anyone other than emergency personnel. Simply holding a phone to one’s ear while behind the wheel of a vehicle in motion would trigger the presumption of guilt and a potential $100 fine. The proposed law would not limit the hands-free use of mobile phones.

The second, broader bill would prohibit the use of any hand-held mobile device, including to send or read a text, make a call or enter GPS coordinates while driving or temporarily stopped in traffic. The hands-free use of such devices would be allowed if, that is, the user is over age 18. Younger drivers would be banned from the use of devices, hands free or not.

Both bills, singly or in combination, deserve to become law. Studies conducted for AAA, the National Transportation Safety Board and other agencies, all conclude that entering or reading information on an electronic device is as dangerous or more dangerous than drunk driving. Using a cell phone while driving increases the risk of an accident, several studies found, by a factor of four. Texting, according to a Virginia Transportation Institute study, increases that risk by 23 times.

The jury is still out over whether the hands-free use of a cell phone increases the risk of a crash, though researchers agree that doing so is riskier than talking to a passenger, since most passengers, particularly when in the front seat, also tend to keep their eyes on the road and warn of danger. Absent strong evidence of increased risk, however, the hands-free use of mobile phones should remain legal.

The ban on all cell phone use by young drivers is completely justified. Becoming a truly good driver, one who reflexively scans the landscape for potential hazards and instinctively and accurately solves the quadratic equation that determines when the gap between speeding vehicles is large enough enter traffic, takes years of practice. Older drivers can do it safely while reaching for a coffee cup or tuning the radio, research published in a recent issue of The New England Journal of Medicine concludes. Younger drivers cannot. That’s not to say that veteran motorists can safely shave, apply lipstick, read, eat a bowl of cereal or engage in other behaviors that horrify passing motorists.

Many states have already banned the use of hand-held devices while driving and cell phone use by young drivers. New Hampshire should do likewise.

The right to “Live Free or Die” does not include the right to negligently kill someone else while reading a tweet.

Legacy Comments9

The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;— Little we see in Nature that is ours;

I have never heard as many crashes lately that are caused by going over the yellow line. How can a driver go over a yellow line unless they are distracted? I myself have followed many drivers who skirt the line, catch themselves and over correct. After a while it starts again. Driving is terrible, people will practically run someone off the road to get one car ahead in a long line of cars that are going nowhere. What happened to right turn on red AFTER STOP and are cars not equipped with turn signals anymore? Good to get that off my chest.

You seem to have a lot to "get off of your chest". I imagine that you are one of the folks traveling 45 miles per hour in a 55 zone, holding up a whole line of traffic while one guy gets impatient and passes the whole string. You are, however, correct that people trying to get one car length ahead are pretty stupid.

What is wrong with America? - Knee jerk legislation. A Hallmark of the democrats is that they daily legislate delusional fantasies of impossible Utopia. They have long forgotten the difference between government by decree and government by design. A free people that govern themselves in the arena of a nation of laws is rapidly being destroyed by these democrats. Driving while distracted is already LAW that is enough. The Google Glasses that I got under the Christmas tree this year are not on their current list of banned items - That will be in the liberals knee jerk legislation next year along with the new "Dick Tracy" smart phone /watch.

WOW! Republicans don't use hand held phones while driving! They sure know how to govern though. Via the filibuster.

Your mistaken, they do. It's only certain republicans who think he has a god given right to do whatever he wants regardless of who gets hurt. If people were more responsible this type of legislation wouldn't be necessary. But given the attitude presented in the comment it's obvious commonsense is gone so rules are needed.

Why not make the argument that folks should be swift enough to hook up their phones to the gadgets you can buy so you do not have to have the phone in your ear held by your hand? You can buy them for the cars that you cannot hook up through your radio. Tillie is right, I have seen more and more folks weaving out of their lane these days, a huge amount of folks doing it. It is not always young folks who are doing it either. I actually see more older folks doing it. It is like we have a bunch of drunks driving on the road. At that point you want to pass them but you have the fear that will be when they weave out of their lane again. It is dangerous and annoying to say the least. Another beef I have is, how many times do you see a cop pull over a truck for speeding? Not often, and I can tell you I have had seen many pick up trucks drive aggressively with their huge pickups. Cops seem to give pickup trucks a pass.

Well what do you know , we agree on something. Only I don't think it is the problem with a hand held phone, it is the attention that is given to the conversation and not the road. Talking about trucks, what is with 18 wheelers these days? They also seem to be the cause of countless accidents. I have seen them take hairpin turns like race car drives.

I might support the ban on people under 18 as they are most of the offenders. You should not text and drive. However, this is a slippery slope issue. What will be next? Drinking a coffee while driving or listening to the radio or eating a sandwich? We often try to do some many things to protect us from ourselves that it makes the situation worse. Anyone who drives for a living or whose living takes them on the road for long hours knows that you need a radio, a phone conversation or refreshment. No one can have their two hands on the wheel and strictly be concentrating on the road. People can be hypnotized without some kind of distraction while driving. I think that many people think that you concentrate on the road with two hands on the wheel and not another thought should run through your mind. I will say that many times driving with my earset in, a phone call has kept me sharper and awake then if I had been driving a long distance concentrating on the white lines on the road.

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