Hawaii should take cue from the Army's cell-phone ban
The Army is banning use of cell phones while driving on its Hawaii installations.
WHILE HAWAII legislators continue to ponder the obviously dangerous use of cell phones while driving, the Army in Hawaii has initiated the most sweeping ban
of their usage on any of America's roads. The action should provide a laboratory on the issue and prod the Legislature to take the first step by prohibiting motorists' use of hand-held phones.
Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of the 25th Infantry Division, took action 10 days ago, signing a policy memorandum banning motorists' use of any cell phone -- including headsets and hands-free devices -- on Army posts in Hawaii. That includes Schofield Barracks, Tripler Army Medical Center and Fort Shafter. Violators -- civilian or military -- will lose their driving privileges on post.
No jurisdiction in civilian America bans all cell phone use while driving. Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia prohibit motorists' use of hand-held cell phones except in emergencies. The Marine Corps Base at Kaneohe Bay has a similar policy. A few other states restrict their use by young motorists or school bus drivers.
Numerous studies support the comprehensive ban penned into effect by General Mixon. The driver's distraction is caused not by handling the cell phone, but by engaging in a conversation outside the context of driving.
The cognitive nature of the distraction makes cell phone usage more reckless than other distractions, such as eating or fiddling with the radio. Several studies, the most recent one conducted in Australia and published in July in the British Medical Journal, have concluded that drivers who use cell phones are four times more likely to be involved in an injurious crash.
Army spokeswoman Stefanie Gardin told the Star- Bulletin's Gregg K. Kakesako that drivers or pedestrians "have a right to the safest environment possible. The new cell phone policy helps ensure their safety by limiting additional distractions to motorists."
Drivers and pedestrians deserve the same right outside Army bases. In recent years the Hawaii Legislature has considered bans on the use of hand-held phones while driving but lacked the courage to annoy a growing number of motorists enamored by their cell phones. The excuse that more study is needed is lame.
State taxpayers paid $1.5 million to a New Jersey man in 2001 for injuries he received when struck in 1996 by a Hawaii schoolteacher who had just finished using her cell phone on the way to work while the man was walking across the street. This month, police said a head-on crash occurred when a motorist trying to text-message on his cell phone veered into the oncoming lane, colliding with a pickup truck. Future accidents caused by cell-phone distraction are waiting to happen.
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