• The Publisher’s Notebook •
Call Control and Malibu Drivers
BY ANNE SOBLE
I still recall some of the irate e-mails, telephone calls and faxes I received when I would “editorialize” about the need to curtail cell phone use by drivers of moving vehicles. My favorite ones were from the people who “reluctantly” agreed that, yes, there might be other drivers who cannot juggle complex communications with Pacific Coast Highway rush-hour traffic, but they certainly weren’t among them. It’s fascinating how people can rationalize that others might be in need of monitoring, but they most certainly are not. These I-can-drive-and-talk-at-the-same-time types would “never” have been involved in the 1100 California vehicle crashes directly blamed on hand-held cell phone use in 2007. Cell phone use may have played an indirect role in thousands more. Those irate responses will essentially be moot on July One when the first legislative attempt to regulate cell phone use in moving vehicles takes effect. I say first because I and many others in public policy, law enforcement and the medical profession think that it does not go far enough. We think that traffic safely remains compromised until all cell phone use by drivers in transit is banned.
The new law requiring that all drivers over 18 use a “hands free” setup—either a wireless unit or a hard-wired headset in one ear—is a step in the right direction, as long as it leads to greater regulation. A driver’s attention belongs on the road. Discussing what’s for dinner, castigating a youngster for coming home late, or pondering whether your cousin is having an extra-marital affair are distracting topics when you’re sitting on your living room sofa. Negotiating rush hour traffic while discussing them is suicidal. National accident statistics bear this out. Acknowledging how many years it took to get people to make seat belt use an automatic response may not bode well for cell phone regulation. Many people openly say they will ignore the law. If citation for cell phone misuse becomes as prevalent as cites for seat belt violations now are, their attitude may change. The minimum base fine for a first offense is $20, and subsequent offenses cost $50. If court costs or other fees are added, the amount could double or triple. Illegal calling could get costly.
Also taking effect on July One is the law prohibiting drivers under 18 from using any type of cell phone while driving. This is excellent. Young drivers need to focus on the road, not be text-messaging their 100 B/GBFs. But again, there is a strong likelihood that the law will be ignored. The message that the teen risk of death-by-auto is already so high, that anything that can make a dent in the grisly data will help save lives, cannot be overstated. Still, a study on a comparable ban on teen cell phone use in North Carolina is disheartening. Young people ignored the ban on cell phones, just as they ignored curbs on speeding, as well as drinking and driving. Hopefully, California teen drivers will paint a more positive picture. But that may not occur until the same across-the-board prohibition on cell phone use applies to all drivers of all ages. Until cell phone use at the wheel is recognized for the risk that it is, Pacific Coast Highway and all of the other roads in Malibu are more dangerous than they have to be.