So, I got to watch some of the spectacular side effects of driving while cradling a cell phone on the way home yesterday. You know, the mile-long backup from a trivial accident, and the countless near misses behind it as drivers with cell phones change lanes without warning or signaling, don't maintain reasonable following distances, etc. You know, typical road-rage material.
And I decided that either I'm missing something, or it's a problem that just shouldn't exist anymore.
First, I don't think trying to ban cell phone usage while driving will work. It won't get enforced adequately, it won't get obeyed adequately, and it will just annoy a lot of people.
What I'd like to see is a basic effort from car makers, phone makers/carriers, or better yet BOTH to just fix it.
We've all seen these cheap, clunky solutions to hands-free cell phones - car/radio adapters that are awkward to mount, might require a battery, might not have great pick-up, etc. Why can't the car manufactures build this stuff in? GM already has On-Star - use the mic/speakersystem from that, if you don't want to pump it through the stereo system. You don't have to invent the countless adapters to plug into every phone's aux jack; just make some standard mini-stereo inputs, and let the phone/carrier/aftermarket accessory industry produce adapters. You already have a widely-accepted standard for DC power, why not mic/speakers as well?
I'm convinced that the problem is NOT people talking on their cell phones; rather, it's people holding a cell phone while trying to drive. Up to your ear, or even out in front of you, you're keeping at least one hand busy, and moving/turning your head less, etc. THOSE are the behaviors that are problematic (especially if, like me, you have a manual transmission).
I've tried one of those cheap radio hookups, and it just didn't cut it. I've tried a earbug/mic attachment, it didn't cut it either (bad pickup, short cord, etc.), and that's still technically illegal (if you didn't know, drivers cannot legally wear any sort of headphone in most states at least; playing your music as loud or louder from external speakers is just fine, of course!). But if you could talk and listen the same way you'd talk/listen to a passenger in the car, the problem would essentially go away. Dialing/answering is no worse than fiddling with the A/C or the radio (granted, there are countless accidents caused by these activities, but you don't generally see folks fighting to ban the use or adjustment of a radio in a moving car).
So, which is it? Am I missing some good reason why there isn't a broader effort to make cars cell-phone-friendly? Yeah it'll tack on a few dollars to the price of a new car, but cell phone usage is nearly ubiquitous now, which means it's something a very high percentage of new-car customers would likely be interested in.
I'm generally against government 'nannying', and it seems like a lot of the regulations with automobiles can stray into this territory. But if safety is such a big deal, and if things like Daytime Running Lights and tire-pressure sensors can become federally mandated, why not a standard 2-way audio interface for phones while you're at it? I'd bet the cost/benefit on that would compare favorably with either of the other required features I just mentioned...