Legislature should pass H.B. 95

By By Jonathan Deesing

By Jonathan Deesing

Sometimes I’m sitting in class and the beer in my backpack is just calling to me. I can hear it calling me a couple times throughout class, and most times I cannot even wait until I leave the room to pull it out and respond. I’ll walk to my car, paying little attention to anything but the beer in my hand. Frequently, I’ll finish the beer by the time I get to my car and another one is already calling me. Hell, if I have to back out with it in my hand I will, because that beer at that moment is all that matters to me.

What’s wrong with this? If I can’t do this with a beer, then why can I do it with a cell phone? It’s perfectly legal to operate a motor vehicle in Utah while talking on a cell phone8212;and why shouldn’t it be?

Frank Drews, a psychology professor at the U, led a study late last year that answers that question. In his report, which appears in the December issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, he explained his findings that talking on a cell phone and driving is just as dangerous as drunken driving and much more distracting than talking to a passenger. Other studies conducted by Drews have found that driving while talking on a cell phone is comparable to driving with a .08 blood-alcohol level.

In last year’s study, 41 people were observed driving in a simulator while talking on a cell phone. They drifted in their lanes and frequently missed the freeway exit they were supposed to take in the simulator. This can be attributed to the fact that a driver’s attention and focus is drawn away from driving when talking on a cell phone.

“Hands-free (devices) aren’t any safer,” said psychology professor David Strayer, Drews’ co-author of the study.

House Rep. Phil Riesen, D-Salt Lake City, has sponsored a bill to alleviate this potentially hazardous problem. House Bill 95 proposes to make any use of a cell phone while driving, whether or not it’s a hands-free device, a class C misdemeanor.

“I think it’s a good bill,” Strayer said. “Riesen did a remarkably good job at reading the science behind the issue.”

Hands-free devices are not a safe alternative. Texting while not looking at the phone is not a safe alternative and any cell phone usage while driving is a distraction and is dangerous.

This is why H.B. 95 needs to pass. It has garnered a lot of support in the Legislature and Strayer, who visited the Legislature to testify in support of the bill, was unable to do so because of the large number of citizens testifying their support.

“(This) bill is supported by the studies,” Strayer said. “It’s the right law.”

People need to ask themselves, “Is this call more important than my life?” If it isn’t, then put that “beer” down and drive.

[email protected]