Channel 19

Todd Dills

Kicking the habit: Why a blanket cell-phone ban won’t work

| December 15, 2011

As if hearing the plethora of truck drivers’ objections to the prohibitions on handheld cell use in-cab while driving, minus any similar prohibition for the motoring public and given the wide problem of motorist distraction on the highways, the National Transportation Safety Board formally recommended that all personal electronic devices be banned from use while driving by everyone in all 50 states and D.C. (except in emergency situations and unless they aid the driving task).

All the same, truck drivers’ reactions to this news was perhaps appropriately cynical, judging by some of the comments we’ve seen on our Facebook page. Bethany from the One Girl Trucking site noted for instance that “while I think it is great they are ‘thinking’ of going after ALL drivers, I think correctly training drivers from the start would be a great step in the right direction. If they are going to take cell phones out of vehicles they had better make laws against eating & driving, watching TV & entertaining kids while driving, blowing your nose, sneezing and everything in between. It would just be easier to ban stupidity while driving.”

The folks with Zoomsafer, maker of systems/software for fleets to mitigate against phone use in vehicles that are in motion, published a commentary on the problem of enforcement yesterday, too. They pitched their technological solution as a potentially effective enforcement mechanism on an individual basis, but along the way noted these problems: 1) “Bans alone don’t work” (and in some instances may be a detriment to safety as drivers try to use the phone surreptitiously, misplacing attention). 2) “Bans are difficult and expensive to enforce.” 3) “Ignoring bans is easy for drivers to rationalize,” particularly given the American public’s virtual addiction, at this point, to mobile phones.

Read Zoomsafer’s full post here, where the company takes the addiction metaphor further, speaking of their technology in language reminiscent of an ad for, say, nicotine replacement therapy. (You’ll recall my post about Marsh Carroll’s humorous vid for the company, which also tracks in similar metaphors.)

The likelihood of a nationwide phone-use ban happening thus seems slim to none, particularly given that the states would have to adopt measures individually to create such a ban, and none have one in place at present (a good portion of states still haven’t outlawed texting behind the wheel, for that matter); at the least, the NTSB recommendation puts the distracted-driving problem in the national spotlight, where it will gain prominence in the public mind.

And as any smoker who’s tried one of those nicotine-replacement strategies to quit smoking knows, they’re only effective for someone who really wants to break the habit. No single external measure is incentive enough. What it takes is the inner will to stop.

Check out One Girl Trucking site here.

  • Dea Longhaul

    Instead of using an ill metaphor like “addiction”, which probably should be retired because of over use anyway, maybe we could try saying there is a lack of “reasonable use” of any communication device in many vehicles today. Where you point out that it just too hard to enforce a driver to pay attention, it isn’t unreasonable to make the driver responsible if they do not avoid hurting anyone while they’re operating any vehicle on the road. The fact is that it isn’t just the industry suffering the safety issues of inattentive drivers but everyone using the highway. We have got to get rid of NTSB’s draconian views too yet, something has to be done that sounds reasonable.

  • http://overdriveonline.com/channel19 tdills

    Thanks for the feedback, Dea. A good approach to distraction then might be too increase penalties for drivers involved in accidents where they were distracted by their own behavior, combined with a continued heightened sense of awareness among all drivers that NTSB and DOT’s attention to the issues is engendering….