It sounds like a bizarre obstacle course: Drive 70 mph with one hand while listening to the radio, tending children and talking on the cell phone. No "Iron Man" would sign up for that challenge. It's a recipe for ruin.
But every day on Utah's freeways, people run such risks and worse.
Some states have taken note. Last Tuesday, Washington state joined the growing corps of states ticketing motorists who drive with one hand while talking on a cell phone (hands-free devices are OK). California also jumped on board recently. In all, 22 state legislatures considered such laws this past year. New York and New Jersey already have such restrictions. New York, in fact, issued 312,000 tickets for driving while using a cell phone in 2007.
Skeptics say the laws will have little effect on highway safety, since the hands-free phones are also distractions. Still, statistics published by the Insurance Institute show that people using hand-held cell phones are four times more likely to be in an accident than other drivers.
And anti-cell-phone laws do send a message: Driving is a full-time job. Being behind the wheel is no time for multi-tasking. Automobiles are too fast and powerful to merit half your attention.
What's more, the feeling is if cell phones are not dealt with, other state-of-the-art gadgets like the MP3 player will do even more to pull the attention of drivers away from the road. Just forcing motorists to drive with both hands should have an effect on safety. As for those who feel their liberties are being curbed, there comes a time when issues are no longer about personal freedom, but public safety. Smoking went through that transition. Alcohol is being reassessed. It's time that drivers who talk on a cell phone realize they not only put themselves at risk, but they put innocent men, women and children at risk as well.
It's time for Utah to join the chorus and put a stop to the distraction of hand-held devices in automobiles.