Cell phones, driving a bad mix
On May 30, 2006, a Jeep Wrangler driven by an 18-year-old collided with a bicycle near Medford, causing the cyclist critical brain injuries. That event was notable to me for several reasons.
First, the victim is a relative of my wife. Second, as a cyclist myself, I am concerned about the frequency of collisions between motor vehicles and bicycles. And finally, as a member of the Oregon House of Representatives for Lake Oswego and nearby areas, I have a responsibility to improve the safety of the traveling public.
The young driver in this case was turning left at a suburban intersection on a sunny afternoon. The cyclist was approaching the intersection. The Jeep driver cut the corner as he turned, striking the cyclist, who was without fault.
A witness reported that the Jeep's brake lights did not come on before the collision. The young driver apparently did not see the cyclist and hit him with full force.
Why would anyone make such a mistake? In this case, the driver was talking to a friend on a cell phone. Telephone records show that the conversation had been going on for 7 minutes when the collision occurred.
There is mounting evidence that cell phone use impairs a motorist's ability to drive safely. A recent study by the University of Utah concluded that a driver using a cell phone can be as dangerous as a drunk driver.
It's well known that the young have more accidents than more experienced drivers. According to the National Safety Council, only 13 percent of drivers are under age 25, but those young drivers have 29 percent of all accidents. Any parent who has paid auto insurance premiums on a teenager understands that all too well.
It's also apparent that young people today use cell phones a lot. As shown by this case, the combination of inexperience and cell phone use can be tragic, even lethal.
Oregon already has a system of provisional licensing for young drivers. Under a provisional license, for example, young drivers cannot carry young passengers who are not family members. That restriction recognizes the distraction created by conversations with friends.
But the friend need not be in the vehicle to create a distraction. And the technology that enables more than two cell phones to be connected at once expands the potential for distraction.
For the safety of all who use the public roadways, Oregon needs to prohibit the use of cell phones by young drivers until they have greater experience. Age 21, the same point at which we permit young adults to consume alcohol, would provide a boundary with some logic.
Some say the use of cell phones by all drivers should be restricted. Last week California enacted a requirement that drivers talking on cell phones must use a 'hands-free' technology so the phone need not be held to the ear.
Such a restriction must balance the improvement in public safety against loss in efficiency for those who depend on a cell phone in their work. But that trade-off does not exist for young drivers, whose cell phone use is almost entirely social.
Rep. Greg Macpherson, Lake Oswego, represents Oregon House District 38.