Driving and Cell Phones
I'm a bit surprised that I have never dealt with the subject of cell phone use while driving in this column. There has been ample opportunity, from observing drivers while I am at work, to reading reports about it from safety researchers, your suggestions, and even a comment from the judiciary about clamping down on drivers who use them when they drive. The only segment of society not heard from so far are the politicians, who have the power to create a law forbidding the use of cell phones while driving.
Talking on a cell phone while driving is called a divided attention task. Some of your attention must be used to drive safely and some to carry on the conversation. We all have varying levels of capability when it comes to tasks like this with some drivers being safer than others. If too much attention is focused on the phone and not enough on the driving task, the components of a disaster are present. Sometimes circumstances allow us mistakes and sometimes they do not. I think that we tend to be lucky more often than not, and this builds a false sense of security and convinces drivers that using a cell phone and driving is not an unsafe practice.
Logically, using a hand held cell phone should be more dangerous than a hands free model. With one hand occupied holding the device, it only leaves one other to operate all the vehicle controls necessary to drive. Not using signal lights and turning corners improperly or roughly could be a consequence of limited control.
Studies tend to show that using a hands free cell phone is also a danger. Your brain is the tool that you use most in guiding your vehicle as you drive. Interfere with it's ability to pay the required attention to the driving task through conversation and we increase the risk of something going wrong.
When I consider my job as an emergency services provider, I am unable to come up with an instance where I had to hold a cell phone conversation and respond to an emergency at the same time. This means that when I talk on my cell phone, only convenience influences my decision to continue driving. Your safety is far more important than my convenience, so I will pull over and hold the conversation, returning to my patrols once I am finished.