Opinion: Most believe driving while on a cellphone is dangerous but don’t care

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(Written while sitting at a desk)

A new poll finds that after considerable public debate, countless PSAs, stern warnings about danger and numerous state laws banning the practice, pretty much everybody with a cellphone still talks on them while driving a motor vehicle.


Not only that, but a quarter of those surveyed also still send text messages while driving. (In Southern California, texting while driving is much safer than many other places because so much time is spent not moving.)

The good news from the poll is that the percentage of people who believe that talking on a cellphone while driving is dangerous has climbed from 82% three years ago to 88% last month. The bad news is they don’t really care.

So much for legislating chatter.

The new nationwide online Harris poll of 2,681 adult Americans did not address people who drive while eating Double Whoppers, sipping way-too-hot coffee or dealing with squabbling, sticky siblings in a backseat full of party balloons and a barking dog while inserting a different CD to drown out a crabby spouse insistent on directing traffic.

But the survey results may show the effectiveness of legislating such human behaviors. Prohibition laws caused the entire nation to stop drinking alcoholic beverages so successfully some decades back.

The survey found that pretty much everybody believes that talking and driving are to varying degrees unsafe.

It also found that after the last three years of public warnings, concerned conversations and legislation written by elected government officials who often have drivers so they can talk legally with their hands, the percentage of people using cellphones while driving plunged from 73% to 72%.


In states like California that have formally banned cellphone use without hands-free equipment, fully half the people who drive and own cellphones still do both at the same time. Harris reports that 71% believe that hands-free cellphone equipment makes ...

... driving safer, even though studies indicate it’s the mental distraction, not the hand-using, that causes accidents.

But either way, few bother with the hands-free stuff.

With a certainty that can only come from the knowledge that no one else is counting, the Harvard Center of Risk Analysis reported six years ago that cellphone use contributed to 6% of all U.S. crashes, or 636,000 collisions, 330,000 injuries and 2,600 deaths annually.

Back then, the center said this cost Americans $43 billion a year, which would be a nice little economic stimulus today. And, looking forward, would perhaps clearly help the new president create or save many jobs for hardworking middle-class families in key states. Not to mention make economic recovery supervisor Vice President Joe Biden look good.

Put another way, the risk center numbers would tell determined cellphone drivers that if they’re ever in an automobile accident, there’s a 94% chance it won’t have anything to do with their phone. Better odds than the lottery.

The Harris poll also found that younger drivers are more likely to drive and use cells than those over 64, perhaps because young people still think that talking a lot might do some good in their lives and older folks know better.


-- Andrew Malcolm

Photo credits: Chris Jordan /;

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