Cell phones no clear risk to driving
State lawmakers learn the distraction has not been clearly tied to crashes
Although the use of a cell phone while driving has been shown to be a distraction, it has not been definitively linked to an increase in motor vehicle accidents, according to a new report compiled by the Legislature's research bureau.
Studies also have found that talking on a cell phone using a "hands-free" device is not much safer than speaking directly into the hand-held unit.
The report was released yesterday by the Legislative Reference Bureau.
Lawmakers asked the bureau to compile the report after tabling a proposal that would have banned talking on a cell phone while driving unless a hands-free device were used.
Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) said lawmakers wanted to study the issue further to determine whether talking on a cell phone was any more distracting than activities such as tuning a radio or eating while driving.
The reference bureau reviewed various studies dating to 1991 and as recent as this year that tested the level of distraction caused by talking on a cell phone while driving.
While the studies found cell phone use while driving a "distraction-inducing action," it has not been directly related to an increase in motor vehicle collisions.
Whether cell phone use is more distracting than other activities also hasn't been determined definitively.
"The studies examine possible associations, rather than causal relations, between various potential distractions and motor vehicle collisions," the reference bureau report states.
Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, who introduced legislation in the 2005 session to address the issue, is seeking input from constituents on whether they feel a ban is necessary.
Her effort, which included a letter printed in the Star-Bulletin seeking public comments, comes after the Army last month banned all cell phone use by drivers at its Hawaii bases.
Chun Oakland (D, Kalihi-Liliha) said since her letter appeared in the newspaper Dec. 19, her office has received about 60 phone and e-mail messages. All but one supported a ban on cell phones while driving, while one said an exception should be made for people who are making emergency calls.
That amount of feedback "is very unusual for any issue," she said. "I think it's on the minds of a lot of folks.
"Many of the messages indicated that they were themselves almost hit or were hit, either as pedestrians or motorists, by someone using their cell phone."
Verizon, one of the largest wireless service providers, has supported legislation that includes the option of using a hands-free device and a penalty no greater than any other moving violation, said Michael Bagley, the company's public policy director.
At least 11 states and the District of Columbia restrict cell phone use among young drivers, and some ban hand-held cell phones completely, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.