While there's little, if any, data indicating cell phones are a greater distraction than any others drivers engage in, New York lawmakers have singled out the hand-held car phone as a problem - that will now attract a $100 fine.
New York has gone overboard. Even the National Association of Governors' Highway Safety Representatives, a group of state highway safety chiefs, says the New York law is "premature."
That organization cites the list of other distractions, ranging from changing a CD to eating a hamburger. And don't get us started on the dangers of trying to calm a squalling child in the back seat.
According to a recent study conducted by the University of North Carolina's Highway Safety Research Center, there are greater distractions than phones. In the 284,000 accidents analyzed, the study found that 29.4 percent of drivers were distracted by some outside person, object or event. Adjusting the radio/CD/cassette player accounted for 11.4 percent; other occupants in the vehicle accounted for 10.9 percent. Way down the line came cell phone usage, which accounted for just 1.5 percent of accidents.
Anecdotal evidence may show that cell phone users swerve unpredictably, but this is a case of driver judgment about when or when not to use phones. There are situations where using a hand-held phone poses very little risk - driving down a wide-open highway in the middle of Nebraska, for instance. Speeding down crowded freeways in Atlanta, however, clearly makes cell-phone use more dangerous.
But since the jury is still out on whether phones pose a greater distraction than a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone, we hope other states won't rush to copy New York.