published Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Officials don't expect cellphone ban in Tennessee or Georgia

A Chattanooga motorist holds an iPhone 4S while driving on Thursday. The National Transportation Safety Board declared last week that texting, emailing or chatting on a cellphone while driving is too dangerous to be allowed and urged all states to ban any cellphone use behind the wheel except for emergencies.
A Chattanooga motorist holds an iPhone 4S while driving on Thursday. The National Transportation Safety Board declared last week that texting, emailing or chatting on a cellphone while driving is too dangerous to be allowed and urged all states to ban any cellphone use behind the wheel except for emergencies.
Photo by Alex Washburn.
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Should all cellphone use by drivers be banned?

State House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick was on an access road near the Chickamauga dam when his cellphone rang with a question from a reporter.

Do you think the recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board to ban all cellphone use while driving — even hands-free phones — could get on the books in Tennessee?

“No!” he said, calling a ban a “silly” idea.

“No one would pay attention to it. I think [people] would completely ignore it,” said McCormick, R-Chattanooga. “I am talking to you right now while I am driving down the road.”

Other legislators in the Tennessee House and Senate didn’t speak as critically of the NTSB proposal, but their conclusion was the same: Such legislation stands little chance of becoming law in Tennessee.

Despite federal statistics that show more than 3,000 people were killed in the United States last year as a result of distracted driving — 408 in accidents involving cellphone use — cellphones have become such an integral part of everyday life that it may be virtually impossible to get Americans to stop using them while driving.

“It would make me a lot less productive,” said Joe Dell, a Chattanooga banker who often talks on his hands-free phone in the car. “It’s not a good idea.”

Still, no amount of inconvenience should outweigh safety, some say.

Reba Creesman, of Chattanooga, lost her 23-year-old son and her son’s best friend in February of this year when a 17-year-old distracted by his cellphone swerved and hit her son’s car head on. The teen said he was looking up something with his GPS, police reports show.

Right now, the teen faces only a traffic citation in connection with the deaths, she said.

Tennessee needs stronger distracted-driving laws that make people think twice about doing anything on their phone while at the wheel, she said.

“They didn’t deserve to die on their way home from work,” she said. “No text, no GPS, no phone call could be that important.”

The freedom argument

Some Republicans say a law banning cell usage while driving would inhibit individual freedoms.

“I think we have enough laws on the books that deal with distracted driving,” said Rep. Vice Dean, an East Ridge Republican and vice chairman of the state House Transportation Committee. “I am for less government and less intrusion. I am not anxious to see something like that move forward, and frankly I don’t think the General Assembly would be.

“It’s very possible that someone could propose [a ban],” he said. “There have been bills brought forward that were bans, but they didn’t move much.”

Neither the Department of Safety and Homeland Security nor the Tennessee Department of Transportation will push for a statewide ban, officials said.

But the Department of Safety is going to institute a policy that will prevent agency workers from talking on hand-held phones while driving, and other agencies could follow suit.

And Dean said he is drafting legislation in Tennessee to ban cellphone use in construction zones.

In Georgia, officials said the state has a problem with distracted driving, but it is more than just cellphones. Moving a mirror, changing the radio station, putting on makeup or taking a bite of a sandwich can pose similar risk.

But Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said he doesn’t see a total cellphone ban as being politically palatable in the Peach State.

“It took a lot of effort to get the texting-and-driving ban,” he said. “I don’t know if the public and the Georgia General Assembly are ready for that.”

Lifestyle issue

In 1996, 14 percent of the population had cellphones, but now the equivalent of every American has one, a total of 322 million subscribers, according to data from CTIA, the International Association of Wireless Telecommunications.

On these phones, consumers talk 2.25 trillion minutes a year, a leap from 44.4 billion in 1996, the association’s data shows. Twenty-nine percent of residents use only wireless phones, forgoing the traditional home telephone.

With the advent of affordable smart phones, people are able to use their cells to multitask like never before. They conduct business in the school car pool line or during the daily commute. They catch up with family en route to a business appointment. They check their Facebook, their Twitter updates, look up directions and make sure the boss didn’t send an early email.

But while cellphones have helped save time, they arguably have made the roads less safe. A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study of commercial drivers found that an accident is 163 times more likely if a driver is texting, emailing, or accessing the Internet.

Growth in the number of wrecks related to cellphone use has pushed 10 states to prohibit handheld cellphone use while driving, although none is in the Southeast.

No state has banned all cellphone use for drivers, which would include hands-free devices, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Thirty states have outlawed all cellphone use for novice drivers and 19 states for school bus drivers.

Thirty-five state won’t allow texting while driving, according to the GHSA.

Legislators and agency leaders say walking the line between safety and personal convenience is difficult. Many of them don’t want to preach because they use cellphones to get work done in the car.

“In a modern world we have to find the right balance between allowing people to do their business and understanding that people are driving heavy, destructive machines,” said Sen. Andy Berke, a Chattanooga Democrat and member of the Senate Transportation Committee. “That balance is hard to find.”

Beyond that, some Chattanooga police question whether an outright ban of cellphone use by drivers would even work.

“Communicating and talking [on a cellphone] is not much different than communicating with a passenger in the vehicle,” said Joe Warren, a traffic investigator with the Chattanooga Police Department. “It doesn’t take your eyes off the road or your hands off the steering wheel.”

A ban could affect police work, too.

“We use the radio to communicate while we are driving,” he said. “Outlawing this and outlawing that will not affect a lot. We have to modify drivers’ behaviors and the attitude that they take.”

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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marctn31 said...

if something is not done about all these young teenage girls texting while driving we will need alot more funeral homes to be blunt they are risking alot of peoples lives everyday i almost got hit today at walmart she had it right above the steering wheel and going to town on it. as tax payers that follow the law what do we do call 911? or what comments welcome!

December 18, 2011 at 1:09 a.m.
sunnydelight said...

Talking on a hands free bluetooth is no more distracting than having a conversation with a backseat passenger while driving. Texting is the equivalent of turning around facing that backseat passenger while having that conversation. Tailgating is one of my pet peeves. Young females seem to be the worst offenders however texting is becoming popular with all ages and both genders.

December 18, 2011 at 3:09 a.m.
jesse said...

if they can pass a law telling me "i must wear a seat belt or wear a helment on a cycle" when that puts no one at risk but myself then why not a law on texting and hands on cell phones when that puts every body on the road at risk!!

December 18, 2011 at 6:44 a.m.
nowfedup said...

Well since a lot of PR and campaign funds spent on this one, cells will not go away in autos. SO let's simply change liablity and jail time laws to reflect if phone in use at accident time, VERY stiff, say triple points and triple from norm sentencing, mandatory, not perhaps or "up to max of". Talk, kill or injure or destroy and by by time. Note we were nearly run down by women on cell in Mall lot, she never saw or heard us, just in her own self important world doing something like updating shopping lists. Missed us by about half foot as we were walking in same direction as traffic in that lane, dodged at last second. Even when we shouted as she pasted, she did not hear or see a thing. DUI via cell

December 18, 2011 at 11:16 a.m.
freedom57 said...

If we can text and drive , please let me drink and drive. When one of the politicians lose a young family member to cell phone distraction, the law wil change!

December 18, 2011 at 11:18 a.m.
bbeforec said...

Easy to understand why these two states are so low in the best educated states ratings.

December 18, 2011 at 1:05 p.m.
dih2006 said...

"Some Republicans say a law banning cell usage while driving would inhibit individual freedoms."

I find this highly ironic considering the same party's stance on the issue of gay marriage.

December 18, 2011 at 5:22 p.m.
strawn40 said...

Texting and holding the phone while talking when driving is a lot dangerous then talking on a Blue Tooth. I would be lost with out my blue tooth, because I will not talk on my phone if I'm having to hold the phone talking while driving. I've mostly been a delivery driver off and on the past 20 years and when I first got my cell phone I knew and wouldn't answer my phone when driving unless I pulled over, and I've never text while driving with out anybody ever having to tell me not to because I'm a good driver when it comes to safety. If I forget my blue tooth I will not answer my cell phone.

December 18, 2011 at 8:06 p.m.
strawn40 said...

I also have what they call MotoSpeak on my cell phone where I can hear with my blue tooth who's texting and what they say with out having to look at the cell phone and can reply back with my blue tooth if it's important by talking though my blue tooth with out having to text with my hands. And that's a lot safer since you don't have to take your eyes off of the road.

December 18, 2011 at 8:19 p.m.

"We calculate that around 2,600 people die each year as a result of this use of the technology," Joshua Cohen of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. "Another 330,000 are believed injured." When calculated by Harvard researchers, the costs associated with accidents caused by cell phones, such as medical bills and loss of life add up to an estimated $43 billion a year. Each person must place their own value on the tragic death of their loved ones.

December 18, 2011 at 9:10 p.m.
Reba said...

I would like to say Thank You to Joann and The Times Free Press,I do not live in Chattanooga,I live in Evensville Tenn.For someone to ask me how i feel about texting and driving.It is so unreal Ryan Jordan my son was killed leaving behind the love of his life and 2 small daughter's,Derrick Dugger left behind a young son he adored and also a loving family.And now being told the 17 yr. old that hit them would probally get a traffic ticket,unbeliveable.My son left here Febuary 8th after droping off the girls hugged my neck and said I LOVE YOU MOMA see you this evening,the next time i saw my beautiful son was on Saturday at the funeral home,please people dont make another 2 families like us go thru this pain and suffering.I sit and watch my grandaughter who just turned 2 as we sing and she blowes kisses up to Heaven to her daddy.Thank You.

December 18, 2011 at 9:18 p.m.
lookinfour said...

Lack of action on this issue gives more proof that the strict DUI laws are more of a political crime than anything. DUI is serious and the act kills people. People go to jail the first time they do this. Distracted driving is also serious and the act also kills people. For that crime people get warnings and small fines. Lawmakers know that if they enact strict laws on distracted driving they will find themselves and their families in trouble. Treat distracted driving like DUI and see what happens when that first legislators daughter gets hauled off to jail. It just won't happen.

December 18, 2011 at 9:55 p.m.
Bumpkin said...

Jesse, they should pass a law that you are not allowed to wear a helmet. Just incase.

December 20, 2011 at 8:13 a.m.
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