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Cell Phones - A Growing Road Hazard

By Insurance.com Posted : 07/12/2006
From grocery stores to nightclubs to parks and restaurants, people are conducting business and holding personal conversations on their cell phones all over the country. No harm in this, right? Sure, as long as the owner isn't talking while driving!

When a driver "talks and drives" they are not only putting themselves at risk, they are also putting everyone around them in a dangerous situation. As the driver must take their eyes off the road to dial the phone, the focus is on their phone and not on who's in front of them. Plus, drivers become absorbed in their conversations, which diverts their concentration, ultimately jeopardizing the safety of other drivers and pedestrians on the road.

An accident waiting to happen
According to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, over 200 million people used cell phones as of December 2005, compared to approximately 4.3 million in 1990. This increase in cell phone use has led to a rise in the number of people talking on the phone while driving - leading to more potential accidents.

Don't believe it? In a study conducted last year by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), researchers placed cameras and internal car sensors inside 100 cars to track drivers' activities right before a dangerous event occurred. Researchers found that users of cell phones or other electronic devices, while driving, caused far more crashes and near misses than non-users.

Hands-free cell phones a smart alternative - maybe not
Hands-free cell phones may allow the driver to keep both hands on the wheel, but there are down sides that make them just as dangerous. In a study conducted by the NHTSA, researchers found that devices such as headsets or voice activated dialing led to longer dialing times. Ironically, these delays created the same level of driver distraction encountered by the users as hand-held phones.

At the University of Utah, researches discovered that motorists who talked on hands-free cell phones were eighteen percent slower to brake and seventeen percent longer to regain the speed they lost when they braked. Slow reaction time could potentially lead to costly fender benders!

Talking on the job
Hands-free or hand-held, cell phones are a popular tool among many business people driving to and from meetings. They are using their time effectively, you say. Wrong!

In the past years some very high profile cases have gone to court involving car accidents caused by business people on the phone. In many of these cases, the employer was just as liable as the driver. That's because under the doctrine of vicarious responsibility, employers can be legally held accountable for the negligent acts of their employees. Employers may also be found negligent if they fail to in state a cell phone use policy for their company.

This has caused many companies to create or reevaluate their cell-phone policies. Some companies allow their employees to conduct business over the phone as long as they pull over to the side of the road or into a parking lot. Other companies have chosen to ban the use of cell phones all together.

The cost of talking
With cell phone accidents on the rise, states and cities are cracking down with cell phone bans and expensive fines. For instance, Connecticut drivers can be fined $100 for using a cell phone while driving. That cost does not include other fines the driver may incur as a result of getting pulled over. In New Jersey, cell phone fines range from $100 to $250, while, fines in Washington D.C. range around $100. In New York, drivers pay $100 for the first violations, $200 for the second and $500 thereafter. So if you're driving through these states, it's best to turn your cell phone off!

Effects on your auto insurance premium
"Currently auto insurance companies do not penalize drivers for using their cell phones while driving, however companies are watching this situation very closely," stated Insurance.com CEO Dave Roush. "Auto Insurance companies have always promoted safe driving, so driving with a cell phone is a clear violation of that. If a driver needs to take a phone call, the best thing to do is pull over, put your car in park and talk to the caller. By doing this, you are taking yourself and others out of harm's way."

Before you travel know the laws
Each state varies on their cell phone laws. To help you learn where each state stands on cell phone use, the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety has developed a graph that outlines each state's cell phone law. Make sure to review this list regularly as laws and restrictions may change.

Cell Phone Restrictions
Hand Held Ban
All Cell Phone Ban
Alabama no no
Alaska no no
Arizona no School bus drivers
Arkansas no School bus drivers
California no School and transit bus drivers
Colorado no Learner's permit holders, drivers younger than 18, and school bus drivers
Connecticut yes (eff. 10/1/05) School bus drivers and learner's permit and intermediate license holders
Delaware no School bus drivers and learner's permit holders
District of Columbia no School bus drivers and learner's permit holders
Florida no no
Georgia no no
Hawaii no no
Idaho no no
Illinois By jurisdiction Learner's permit holders, drivers younger than 18, and school bus drivers
Indiana no no
Iowa no no
Kansas no no
Kentucky no no
Louisiana no no
Maine no Learner's permit and intermediate license holders
Maryland no Learner's permit and intermediate license holders
Massachusetts By jurisdiction School bus drivers
Michigan no no
Minnesota no Learner's permit holders and license holders during the first 12 months after licensing
Mississippi no no
Missouri no no
Montana no no
Nebraska no no
Nevada no no
New Hampshire no no
New Jersey yes School bus drivers and learner's permit and intermediate license holders
New Mexico By jurisdiction no
New York yes no
North Carolina no no
North Dakota no no
Ohio By jurisdiction no
Oklahoma no no
Oregon no no
Pennsylvania By jurisdiction no
Rhode Island no School bus drivers
South Carolina no no
South Dakota no no
Tennessee no School bus drivers and learner's permit and intermediate license holders
Texas no Bus drivers when a passenger 17 and younger is present; intermediate license holders
Utah no no
Vermont no no
Virginia no no
Washington no no
West Virginia no Learner's permit and intermediate license holders (eff. 6/9/06)
Wisconsin no no
Wyoming no no

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