Cellular phones have become a ubiquitous part of U.S. society over the last decade. But their convenience comes at a price.
First there was fear that cellular phones leaked radiation, causing brain cancer. Then they were found to ignite sparks at gas stations. The latest debate is over cellular phone use in cars, where they often prove to be a dangerous distraction to drivers.
In 1999, Brooklyn, Ohio, became one of the first jurisdictions in the United States to forbid drivers from using handheld cellular phones while driving. At least 10 other local municipalities have done the same.
California, Massachusetts and Florida have already enacted statewide laws limiting cellular-phone use and 40 others have considered following suit.
On a federal level, Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., and Sen. John Corzine, D-N.J., introduced legislation in May that would force states to ratify laws halting handheld cellular-phone use or lose federal highway funds.
Just how bad is this problem? And what is governments role in solving it? Are hands-free devices the way to go or do they distract drivers as well? Our panel of experts makes the call.
Jordan Goldes is the press secretary for Rep. Gary Ackerman, sponsor of the Call Responsibly and Stay Healthy Act 2001 (CRASH).
"When we are taught to drive, we [are] told to keep both hands on the wheel -- one at ten oclock and one at two oclock. But with the increasing use of cell phones by drivers, the position has evolved to one hand -- or in many cases one knee -- on the wheel and one hand on the cell phone."
"The most basic role of government is to protect the safety of its citizens, whether its abuse of cell phones or wearing seat belts or obeying speed limits. This is what [CRASH] is doing. Its not even a partisan issue. You have republicans and democrats all over the country who are supporting this type of legislation in their respective states."
"Our legislation would ban the use of handheld cell phones while driving. It would not prevent people from talking on the phone while driving; it would simply not allow them to hold their phone while driving. People could use hands-free devices, speakerphones, earpieces, microphones. We dont want to take phones away from drivers; we just want to make them safer."
Dee Yankoskie is the manager of wireless education programs for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.
"Given the states that have reported on accidents involving wireless phone use, cell phones arent contributing to a significant number. What we want state legislatures to do, if they are concerned with this issue, is to take a three-pronged approach to the larger issue of inattentive driving."
"Number one: We want all 50 states to [change] accident forms to read, Was there distraction involved? If so, what was it? Was the driver talking on the phone, drinking a beverage, did they drop something and were reaching to pick it up, were they eating their lunch?"
"Number two: No new legislation is necessary. Right now, law enforcement already has broad authority if they witness somebody driving erratically or deviating from their lane. No matter what activity theyre engaging in, they can be pulled over and penalized for their irresponsible driving."
"Number three. We believe education is the key. An overwhelming majority of the studies that have looked at this issue have said just that. If you truly want to be effective, sanctions arent the way to go, education is."
Adam D. Thierer
Adam D. Thierer is director of telecommunications studies for the Cato Institute, a nonpartisan public-policy research foundation