Drivers ignore bans on handheld cell-phone use

Drivers ignore bans on handheld cell-phone use

According to a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the US, teenage drivers' cell-phone use edged higher in North Carolina after the state enacted a cell-phone ban for under-18 drivers in December 2006.

This is despite young drivers and their parents saying they strongly support the restrictions. However, both parents and teens believe the ban on handheld and hands-free phone use isn't being enforced.

The two-part study coupled researchers' observations of teenage drivers with telephone surveys of teens and their parents in the first evaluation of a cellphone law for young drivers. North Carolina's ban for under-18 drivers is part of the state's graduated licensing system.

Just prior to the ban, 11% of teen drivers were observed using cell-phones while driving. About five months after the ban took effect, this rose to almost 12%. Less than 1% were using hands-free devices. At comparison sites in South Carolina, where teen driver cell-phone use is not restricted, the figure remained constant at around 13%.

When surveyed after the cell-phone restrictions took effect, only 39% of parents said they were aware of the cell-phone law, compared with 64% of teen drivers. Support for the ban was greater among parents (95%) than teens (74%).

88% of parents said that they restrict their teenage drivers' cell-phone use, although only 66% of teenagers reported such parental limits.

Most parents (60%) and teen drivers (71%) agreed that enforcement of the ban was either rare or non-existent.

Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research and an author of the Institute's study, admits that cell-phone bans for teen drivers are difficult to enforce.

"Drivers with phones to their ears aren't hard to spot, but it's nearly impossible for police officers to see hands-free devices or correctly guess how old drivers are," she pointed out, adding that unless a better way to enforce the law is devised, cellphone bans for teenage drivers will remain ineffective.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia restrict both handheld and hands-free phone use by young drivers. Six states and DC ban all drivers from using handhelds.

To see which states have introduced cell-phone restrictions for drivers, click here.

Teen drivers notwithstanding, in general, handheld cell-phone usage amongst drivers did actually drop from 6% in 2005 to 5% in 2006. This is according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Centre for Statistics & Analysis, who released the results of their National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) in July 2007.

The Insurance Information Institute reports that in May this year, the Public Policy Institute of California released a study: "What to expect from California's new hands-free law", which looks at the potential effect of a new state law prohibiting drivers from using handheld cell-phones.

Based on the experience of the three states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) and Washington DC, where similar laws are already in effect, researchers concluded that the ban will reduce traffic deaths by about 300 a year, but only in adverse conditions, such as on wet or icy roads.

The analysis also found that, because of the relatively modest penalties for using hand-held phones, and no prohibition against dialling and texting, even strict enforcement of the law might not discourage drivers from using cell-phones while driving.

The same appears to be true in South Africa. A website that offers advice to travellers driving on South African roads points out that while using handheld phones while driving is against the law, this doesn't stop most of the locals from using them.

With a maximum fine of ZAR500 in most of the country, even those who are stopped and wrongly fined for talking on a hands-free kit would rather pay up than waste a day in court.

As many as forty countries may restrict or prohibit the use of cell-phones while driving. Countries reported to have laws related to cell-phone use include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Botswana, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe. Most countries prohibit the use of handheld phones while driving.

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