Friday, March 5, 2010

Cell phone impairment and pedestrians

There's a lot of talk lately about the dangers of distracted driving. In Massachusetts, state legislators are working on a safe driving bill (it passed in the House in February, and is currently in the Senate) that would ban handheld cell phone use for talking, texting, and other communications, but provides for people to continue using hands-free devices.

You may be aware that studies show that drivers using cell phones to talk or text are as impaired as drivers who are legally drunk. While there are obviously characteristics that make cell phone impairment different from chemical impairment -- most notably the ability to put the phone down when traffic seems to be getting more complicated. Other studies show that cell-phone impairment exists even when using a hands-free device.

Because pedestrians are often overlooked by drivers (have you ever zipped by a pedestrian waiting to cross at a crosswalk, either because you didn't see them in the busy urban environment or because you didn't feel like stopping? I have, I'm sorry to say!), and are small and slow as compared to other cars, WalkBoston sees pedestrians (and bikes) as being at special risk from distracted driving. So, this week we wrote state senators to say:
I’m writing with regard to S.2290, the safe driving bill. WalkBoston, Massachusetts’ pedestrian advocacy organization, and our membership of over 2500, strongly supports a ban on cell phone and electronic communication devices by drivers. We ask you to vote in support of this bill. Distracted driving is a danger to pedestrians and all users of our streets and roads, and banning the use of cell phones and other such devices is an important piece in the safety puzzle.

Studies have shown that hands-free devices do not significantly reduce the distraction provided by electronic devices, so we additionally support future legislation that limits drivers’ use of hands-free devices as well.

Thank you very much for your support of S.2290 and your attention to the safety of all residents and visitors of the Commonwealth.

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