Cell phones, driving, and laws

Dan and I have a new op-ed in the Seattle Times about the effectiveness of laws requiring drivers to use hands-free phones. The state of Washington has a new hands-free mandate that goes into effect on June 10th. We argue that these laws are not likely to solve the problem they are aimed at, because the main thing that is distracting about a cell phone conversation is speaking with someone who isn’t present, not taking one hand off the wheel to hold the phone.

However, at our talk at Microsoft Research this afternoon, a questioner made an excellent point that we did not address in the op-ed. One thing you definitely cannot do with a hands-free phone is send text messages, and texting is much more distracting than talking on a cell phone. (It still amazes me that people think they can text without significantly affecting their driving safety—the illusion of attention is powerful!) So if the law reduces texting while driving, it will have some benefit.

(PS: We also talked about the book with Steve Scher on “Weekday” on the Seattle NPR station, KUOW, this morning.)

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