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The issue I have with the 2004 law (and others like it across the country) was that it embedded in the minds of the general public that hands-free was acceptable. So removing that aspect from the law is a good change.

Alternatively, we could nibble around the edges by extending the restriction on phone use to those under 21 years old…

I don't think we should continue to imply that phone usage is acceptable under any circumstances. So no to age specific exclusions.

The level of distraction continues to worsen in my opinion. Every automobile manufacturer is rushing to bring out new models that have dashboard displays and integrate with ones smartphone. Send a tweet, update your Facebook or conduct a search while you drive. All is now possible.

I think what we need is to pass penalties for intentional distracted driving that are as severe as we now have with DUI.

I just returned from Australia where the fine is $400 and 3 demerits for the first offense, and they have unmarked cars and motorcycles that go around and try to catch people. So four offenses would be $1600 and loss of your license. Lets just say that I didnt see anyone with a cell phone in the ear while driving.

GPS is allowed, but it must be mounted and you are not allowed to touch the screen while driving

Shall we re-enact yesterday's discussion? :-)


I like that it permits cracking down on all distracted driving, but the first link to the DC page about existing law is almost entirely about cell phone usage.

And the continued promotion of hands free kind of ignores 1/3 of the distraction. I mean, our somewhat lengthy ongoing discussion of the VA bills linked to the federal studies. In essence, they talked about the three forms of distraction as motor, cognitive, and visual. So hands free kind of solves 2 of the 3 (I say kind of since cars still show who is calling and sometimes people still fumble to put in a blue tooth), but it seemingly implies the other version is okay--cognitive.

The driver should be focused on the road. I swear I take my life into my own hands every morning on Royal St in Alexandria when I ride by St. Mary's. I see parents dropping off kids that are in such a rush (or just don't care) that they will carelessly drive forward without looking, run stop signs, etc. And yet, they all think they're good citizens because they're not on their phones.

Maybe this will all be for naught once Google's robot-driven cars become reality.

T, they'll take 'merican's human-driven cars away when they pry the steering wheels out of their cold, dead hands.

While these laws may be great in principle, if they're never enforced, then the whole process becomes an exercise in administration and will offer no safety benefit whatsoever.

MPD does ticket people for distracted driving. I seem to recall it was more than 500 a month, but I can't find the stats.

I favor codifying distracted driving, from whatever source, as a major aggravating factor for any traffic charge. Using a handheld phone could be a primary offense, not because it's significantly more dangerous than hands-free, but because it's visible to law enforcement. However, I agree with others that the distinctions vitiate the basic message: Pay attention when controlling a potentially deadly machine!

@cyclistinthecity,they tried doing crackdowns up the street from me by Sidwell,but too many people complained about the slowdown of traffic,and they stopped doing it years ago. They need to start doing it again,as well as start having a bike cop or two patrol the bike/bus lanes through Chinatown.

As for the fines,I think the penalty should be $100...plus something like 20hrs of community service. A couple weekends of picking up trash would do more to stop people than just forking over a Benjamin.

Studies have shown that driving while talking on the phone (yes, even hands free) is similar to driving under the influence. Would we even consider a $100 fine for a first offense DUI?

We let DUI get out of control before deciding it was a serious offense, though I am not convinced we consider it serious enough yet. It may already be too late to make people realize talking on the phone is a serious and often life-threatening action. Look around. Is there any other law that thousands of people openly ignore everyday?

And what about the news story a couple of days ago about the man cited in Georgia for eating a burger while driving? Good Morning America treated as a big joke, ha, ha, now you can't drive while eating? You are driving a fricking 2 ton (or more) machine capable of killing a human in an instant. How about you take that task seriously?

Playing devil's advocate, I'll say that Distracted driving is not the same as DUI. If I'm driving distracted I can hang up the phone and I'm fine. When I got behind the wheel I was not impaired. But for drunk driving, that is not true. I got behind the wheel knowing that I was impaired, and that that would not change.

But for drunk driving, that is not true. I got behind the wheel knowing that I was impaired, and that that would not change.

I'd argue the opposite. If drinking didn't impair ones judgment then frat boys would have to find something else to serve freshman girls.

Not as true for distracted phone use though I'm aware of some studies that say it can be compulsive.

Anyway i think we treat DUI too harshly now and intentional distracted driving too lightly.

Something I've always wondered about when this argument comes up: if we make it illegal to use a hands-free device to talk on the phone, why not make it illegal to talk to your passengers as well?

Rob: Do you really equate talking to a passenger to talking on a phone? Does the person on the phone halt the conversation when the car in front suddenly brakes? Does the person on the phone warn you to be careful of the pedestrian in the road ahead, or the light about to turn?

There are situations where talking to passengers should, and usually are, kept to a minimum, such as heavy rain, traffic, snow, etc. The passenger sees what you see and understand the need for a halt in the conversation for a situation that requires full attention.

While I agree that one can stop using the phone but cannot stop being drunk, that does not speak to the problem. While using the phone you are impaired. Do people put the phone away when pedestrians or cyclists are present? In my observation, no. And unlike drinking, impairment by phone can, and does, occur at any time.

I also disagree that we take DUI seriously. The killer of Tom Palermo in December had previously been arrested while driving with a 0.27 BAC. She was so drunk the officer was afraid she would injure herself during the field test. No jail time, PBJ, temporary loss of license. Nope, that ain't taking a potentially deadly driver seriously.

There are some published data, much reported at the time, showing that conversing by phone placed significantly more load on drivers' attention than talking with a passenger.

"The results show that passenger conversations differ from cell phone conversations because the surrounding traffic becomes a topic of the conversation, helping driver and passenger to share situation" awareness, and mitigating the potential effects of conversation on driving. (2004)


"It’s long been recognized that talking on the phone while driving increases your risk of being involved in a crash. But in recent years, car and technology companies have marketed hands-free devices as a safer way to talk while driving.
Now a growing body of evidence suggests using hands-free phone devices such as ear pieces and Bluetooth is equally as dangerous as talking on a cell phone normally." (2013)


"Psychological research is showing that when drivers use cell phones, whether hand-held or hands-off, their attention to the road drops and driving skills become even worse than if they had too much to drink." (2006)


"Drivers talking on a cell phone are more distracted and more prone to error than if they were speaking with a friend sitting next to them in the car, a new report finds." (2008)


T - St. Mary's on Royal St in Alexandria. You might try stopping by one day and kindly, gently, suggest to the Head of School that their carpool lane is dangerous to children and other living things and that as a religious educational institution, wouldn't it be great for them to set the standard for behavior that is good for the neighborhood? Then offer to help them design a program that's positive and encouraging rather than finger pointing and judgmental. I worked for years in a private school and the last thing we wanted was our surrounding neighborhood not supportive. It's a thought and an idea --

I agree with those who say that impaired driving is very similar to electronically distracted driving.

Some people drive very well when they are inebriated: They inspect the entire car before setting out, and then are hyper vigilant, because they do not want to get stopped. Others become cavaliar.

Similarly, some drivers become hyper cautious while talking on a cell phone, picking a lane and staying in it, for example, and talking about their driving to whomever is on the phone. Others, however, are in another world.

I recall the "baby on board" bumper stickers that I always viewed as a warning that the driver may suddenly do something stupid (thought that only helped when you are following the the car).

I wish all cars had some sort of flashing green light that would go on whenever an occupant of a car is using a cellphone. Is that possible?

Dunno about drivers, but texting pedestrians are a total hazard. I've had them step right out in front of me.

While it's all the same to the victims, impairment is not a uniform category. For example, ethanol impairs judgment, as well as motor performance and attention; whereas, distraction, e.g., by mobile phone conversations, is a pretty pure attentional issue. I would submit that while individuals may compensate for some deficits, most notably motor impairments (and possibly impaired judgment) by driving more cautiously, there is no compensating for impaired attention because you can't see what you can't see. It has been shown repeatedly in the laboratory that multi-tasking does not exist, per se.

I always though the "Baby on Board" placard meant, "be especially careful around me because my baby's safety is more important than some other moke's." I'm glad there's a more charitable interpretation.

Whether distracted driving is as bad as DUI is not the point. Its that the law seriously punishes DUI, but treats distracted driving as no biggy. Making it a serious offense will underscore the important responsibility of drivers towards others, and decrease death and injury.

Smedley: When those "Baby on Board" placards first appeared, I thought they were in case of an accident, so responders would know to rescue a baby. Of course, I was working as an EMT at the time, so my thinking may have been skewed by that.

According to wikipedia, they were created to encourage other drivers to be safe - a sort of "Won't someone think of the children?!" thing. Though later there were stickers to let EMTs know that a child inside might not respond to to emergency personnel.

According Homer Simpson one purpose of the "Baby on Board" placard was to alert police enforcing the HOV-2 limit that the driver is not the only person on board.

In my experience, talking on the phone is very different from talking to a passenger.
I think of it this way. You only have one visual cortex. If you are using it to visualize the person on the other end of the phone, you are not using it to see where you are going.

Jonathon, by that reasoning we should have more serious penalties for passengers making suggestive comments. No driving with significant others unless elderly parents or children are also in the car.

K, I may, but I know I wouldn't be the first to raise the issue there (see Rootchopper's blog). Also, I don't have a good answer for what else they can do. It's not the school so much as the irresponsible parents. They actually have a sign up saying don't be on your phone etc etc.

Re "Baby on board", I just got the distraction warning and precious cargo explanations from my wife. In support of the second hypothesis, I recall people adapting the message to their pets, as in, "Show Dogs, Keep Back" and "Caution, Show Jumpers"--evidently large, smelly, quadrupeds of hyperexcitable temperament and/or vitreous fragility.

In PG, I often see **cops** yammering on mobile phones in their squad cars. But of course cops get to live under a different set of laws, so I guess it's OK.

Distracted driving needs to be handled by issuing strict rules and regulations. Distracted driving has become a menace. Everyone from a person riding a cycle, to a motorcyclist, to a car-driver are most of the time driving carelessly while texting on their phones. As per a survey conducted by a leading motorcycle dealer, http://www.clandesmotards.net/ , more that 55% of the crashes caused are due to distracted driving. Handsfree is not the solution to curb this menace as many people are using these equipments to listen to music while driving which distracts them more. Implementing strict regulations is much needed in the current scenario.

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