Handy cell phones have a downside

Cell phones have revolutionized personal communication. In fact, recent statistics indicate more people have cell phones these days than they do land-line phones.

Handy devices, they are. Drivers are wise to always have one available for roadside emergencies. It’s easy to grab this little phone from a bedside table should an intruder threaten one’s home. Parents of teenagers have been able to relax a bit more, knowing their children can check in regularly on their cells. People who lose companions while traveling or at a large event can quickly locate the missing by dialing them up on their cell phones.

Good reasons abound for owning cell phones: convenience and maybe a life-saver.

But, there’s a downside: abusing the use.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tried to conduct a study in the United States, but was unable to access phone records from phone companies. But, the institute was able to put its hands on records in Australia and found that drivers using cell phones were four times as likely to get into a crash that can cause injuries serious enough to send them to the hospital. It appeared, too, that using a hands-free phone didn’t make much difference in the accident rate.

True, these statistics are from Australia. Yet, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a study earlier this year, indicating that 8 percent of drivers, or 1.2 million people, were using cell phones during daylight hours this past year – a 50 percent increase since 2002.

In light of the facts, lawmakers across the country are struggling with how to reduce driver distraction. Some states have enacted laws prohibiting talking on hand-held cell phones while driving. Some prohibit local governments from restricting phone use in motor vehicles. Others require hands-free cell phones.

What a shame governments cannot legislate common sense.