Cell Phones, Teenagers, & Rock 'n' Roll

Jake Oken-Berg

Vandriving2My band, The Retrofits, returned to Oregon last week from a 17-day, 6800-mile tour through 18 states across the U.S. Before we took off in our 15-passenger van, we set some driving ground rules:

-No speeding
-No tailgating
-No cell phone texting (and only use your cell phone sparingly)
-The driver chooses the music

With the exception of my musical tastes -- when driving across West Texas I will only listen to country music -- the band stuck to our rules of the road and we finished the tour with no speeding tickets and no accidents.

Which brings me to the cell phone ban passed by the Oregon House last week: "Cell phone bill singles out teen drivers" (The Oregonian, May 15, 2007).

The Oregon House passed legislation Monday that would create the offense of operating a vehicle while using a "mobile communication device." The maximum fine for talking or texting while driving would be $360. The bill applies only to drivers younger than 18.

I applaud the House for taking up the serious problem of cell phone use while driving. But why single out teenagers? Why not join Washington and California and pass bans on cell phone use and texting for drivers of all ages?

Rep. Greg Macpherson, a co-sponsor of the bill, offered this explanation in The Oregonian:

"It is a hard thing to learn to drive," said Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego, who co-sponsored the bill. Allowing novices to talk on the phone while handling a vehicle, with all the other distractions out there, he said, "that's too much to ask of them."

That explanation seems to make sense, but couldn't similar arguments be applied to older drivers? After watching my Grandpa try to operate his cell phone, I can hardly see how a 17-year-old driver would be any less dangerous trying to make a call from the road. On two occasions I have been in the car with different Salem lobbyists in their 40s who nearly sailed through red lights while talking on their cell phones.

The true reason for the passage of this bill is far more straightforward. From the Salem Statesman Journal:

"It's a modest proposal, but this is the best we can do," said Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego.

The backers of this legislation knew that going after 15, 16, and 17-year-old drivers and their cell phones was the only politically viable cell ban this session. They don't dispute that cell phone use and texting by drivers of all ages is dangerous.

Politics is the art of compromise, but this is one compromise the House got wrong. Rep. Brian Clem -- the only House Dem to vote against the bill -- said it best in The Oregonian:

Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, joined House Minority Leader Wayne Scott, R-Canby, and Rep. Tom Butler, R-Ontario, in opposing the bill. Clem said he'd be interested in tackling the broader issue of distracted driving. But he didn't come to the Capitol to "pick on teenagers."
"Because teenagers can't vote doesn't mean we get to go and target them regardless of the logic of the approach," Clem said.

Let's hope this bill dies in the Senate Judiciary Committee this session, and that next session the Legislature addresses the real problem of cell phone use by drivers of all ages.

In the meanwhile, I may have to adhere to my bandmates banning my listening to country music on our next tour. But you can be sure we'll be leaving our cell phones in the back seat.

Comments

  • Eric J. (unverified)
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    The bottom line is this: Teens don't vote - parents do. Mess with the parents and you mess with your constituents that got you into power. Many legislators get an earful when adults get their 'rights' banned and these adults vote for the other person the next election if the rights stay banned. No matter what any legislator says - leaving the adults and their 'rights' alone keeps the legislators in power.

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    I assume it was still OK to drink beer from the days-old keg in the back, and fire up bowl after skunky bowl, right? Otherwise I'm going to ask you to take "Rock n Roll" out of your headline. :)

  • JMG (unverified)
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    Partly because these bans, which allow "hands-free" cell phone use, make no contribution to safety, but provide for more oppressive policing, and yet another opportunity for police to create pretexts for stopping people for driving while black/brown, etc.

    If you're serious about safety, you have to ban both hands-free and inhand cellphones, because the studies show that using either kind of cell phone while driving essentially impairs you to the same degree as drinking a beer or two.

    This result, while counterintuitive, has held consistently. Turns out it's not the fact of holding a cell phone that impairs your driving, it's the fact of having a conversation with someone who can't see what's going on and who therefore doesn't moderate the conversation accordingly.

    When you're a passenger, you typically pay attention to what the driver is facing and talk less or more as appropriate, and when the driving is hairy you help the driver keep alert for hazards, help navigate, etc. A person on a cell phone in a distant place has no idea what the driver is seeing or doing and blabs away, distracting the driver in a way that a passenger doesn't.

    So what we need is a ban on cell phone use by drivers period.

  • Jägermeister (unverified)
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    No matter what any legislator says - leaving the adults and their 'rights' alone keeps the legislators in power.

    Oregon has approximately 40,000 people per legislator while California has about 285,000 per legislator. Washington has almost exactly the same amount of legislators per capita as Oregon, just over 40,000. Obviously the entire population isn't of voting age, but it seems that if your logic is to hold then Californian legislators (having a much larger constituent base) would have to be more accountable than Oregon legislators are and less likely to infringe on the personal rights of adults. Yet the Dems somehow managed to pass the ban and stay in power. I don't think the reasoning is quite as simple as your analysis would suggest.

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    aren't there are already distracted driving laws that allow cops to stop people putting on makeup, eating a Big BBQ Deluxe, or doing their taxes? Why do we need a new law, especially one that will simply cause people to go hands-free, which as noted doesn't reduce the risk, it only makes enforcement much more difficult (is the guy in the car singing to the radio, talking on a hands-free cell, or plumb fuckin crazy and talking to himself?)

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    Here's a wacky idea. Why not put a big ol' light on the roof of every car that lights up whenever the driver is on the phone (sort of like the little light blinking in people's hands-free ear device).

    That way, everyone can see which dumbass is on the phone (yeah, probably me) and avoid them.

  • Sean (unverified)
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    I have started an unscientific evaluation of drivers on I-5 South from Columbia Blvd to the City Center exit who are in cars that nearly re-end me who appear to be texting or finger dialing their phone during the morning rush hour. Nearly 100% (margin of error +/-4%) of drivers who have nearly hit me are looking down, and/or gripping the steering wheel with one or two white nuckles as they cradle their Razor.

    For the last two weeks - I have enjoyed watching them realize they weren't pay attention as they nearly crash into my oh-so-practical, but in need of a major accident, kia wagon.

    Seriously - is it that important?

    Note: I am not intentionally stopping short to attempt to illicit the accident. That would be dangerous. It would also bias my unscientific survery.

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    TJ:

    Very true. I'd be the person either singing or talking to themselves. When I'm in the car by myself I do a lot of those two things.

  • Ban The Coincidence! (unverified)
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    Thank God they've come to their senses!

    It's about time the wise men and women of the Legislature are here to save us from things that might distract us while driving!

    I've had enough of this clap-trap about rating divers on the basis of their traffic accident record, ongoing tests of their vision or their skill as drivers! That'd be for birds!

    Let's get started with prohibiting the rest of the dangers today!

    1. Applying make-up.

    2. Looking at directions.

    3. Selecting music.

    4. Checking on your kid in the back-seat.

    5. Checking out someone you'd like to get to know better.

    6. Watching out for cyclists and pedestians.

    7. Driving while drowsy.

    8. Driving while upset about something (job-loss, break-up, death of pet or family member.)

    9. Driving while excited about something (The Blazers winning the NBA Championship, Gore winning Florida, pulling out of Iraq.)

    10. Driving while appearing to match the ethnic and gender profile of criminals and undocumented imigrants.

    Remember, if we can ban all the potential excuses for causing an accident or otherwise committing a traffic offense, it might almost be like banning bad driving -- only easier!

  • Jake Oken-Berg (unverified)
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    I agree with the comments above about cell phone use being a problem whether it is hands free or not. Data backing that assertion is noted in the Insurance Institute study I linked to in my post.

    Torridjoe -- We made a distinction between front seat and back seat activities but that is for another post. Or maybe not. ;)

  • candi (unverified)
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    We miss you, Jake! (When you get a chance, read the above post from ole manifest destiny and summarize it for me)

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    Minor point, most "hands-free" cell phones still require hand use to dial, etc. Most people don't have or have effective voice-recognition functions with their BlueTooth to make the difference in distraction when dialing out, etc.

    A further note, I have found that almost every close-call (pun noted) when some other ass-wipe almost rear-ends me or make s boneheaded move on the road, has WA plates. I thinking banning people with WA plates on their cars would be FAR more effective at reducing moving violations and accidents here in Oregon than any cell-phone ban ever will.

    (wry grin)

  • YoungOregonVoter (unverified)
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    What they really need to pass for public safety on the roads is mandatory eye tests coupled with yearly renewals of licenses for ALL drivers 65 years old and over.

    I have family in Roseburg and every other week, there is an accident because some 80 year old is behind the wheel.

    Teenagers driving and getting in accidents is expected. An 84 year old running over 10 people is not. Just consider the case from California where that 80+ year old ran over 10 people.

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    Minor point, most "hands-free" cell phones still require hand use to dial, etc. Most people don't have or have effective voice-recognition functions with their BlueTooth to make the difference in distraction when dialing out, etc.

    Don't be silly. I buy the cheapest phones I can get, and I've had effective voice recognition for three years now. It's not super complicated, but "Call Someone. Jeff Alworth. Mobile." isn't tough.

    Maybe it's time for you to go phone shopping.

  • Michael Wilson (unverified)
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    What do you suggest we do about the police who drive and talk on the phone? Seems everyone of them I have seen recently is talking while driving. MHW

  • BOHICA (unverified)
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    Who would enforce this ban? There aren't enough traffic cops to ticket all the boneheads in PDX now.

    My one simple rule of driving, walking or biking; never cause anyone to brake for you unexpectedly.

  • BlueNote (unverified)
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    It is frustrating that after finally gaining majority control of the Oregon legislature, the Dems are dithering around with bills like this. Did anybody vote Dem in order to control teenage cell phone use while driving? Did anybody vote Dem in order to eliminate smoking by 75 year old women at bingo parlors (or by 25 year old men in strip clubs)? Meanwhile, how is the legislature doing on universal (or children's) health care? Tax fairness reform? Permanent stable funding for high quality K-12 and higher ed?

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    BlueNote... they're not dithering. They're doing the little stuff that legislators always do in between and around the big stuff. Whether you disagree with this bill or not (and I disagree with it; sorry, Greg) it's perfectly within the norm of the kinds of things that legislators legislate.

    As for health care, you may have noticed that there have been a bunch of hearings on Kitzhaber and Bates/Westlund - and a vote on Healthy Kids is coming up soon.

    On tax fairness and education funding, they've already had one vote on corporate tax reform -- and you should expect more. Of course, without 36 votes, you can't raise taxes.

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    Kari, maybe its time you stop being so pressumptious that I was talking about myself? I have witnessed more than a few people sporting thir alldeged hands-free BlueTooth still messing with the hand held unit becuase of "pilot error" as it were.

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    Egads... typos deluxe, my previous comment should have read:

    Kari, maybe its time you stop being so presumptuous that I was talking about myself? I have witnessed more than a few people sporting their alleged hands-free BlueTooth still messing with the hand held unit because of "pilot error" as it were.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    lestatdelc: Egads... typos deluxe, my previous comment should have read:......

    Bob T: Almost --- "its" should be "it's".

    Bob Tiernan

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    I'm not generally a fan of laws that try to regulate poor personal choices, but clearly people are just too F&@#ING STOOPID to get off their damn phones and drive. Despite all the evidence that driving while talking on the phone is just as dangerous as driving drunk, people still do it all the time. Just today I was nearly hit TWICE on my 12 minute commute by morons yammering away on the phone (yes, lestatdelc, one of them had WA plates, so maybe I could get behind banning them too). This issue gets me so irate because everyone seems to know it's a problem and yet, in the height of delusional selfishness, they seem to assume that it only affects other people, and they are that special exception, the superhuman who can really drive perfectly while chatting on the phone.

    Newsflash: YOU'RE NOT! You probably don't notice because you can't pay attention to your driving, but IT SUCKS! Everyone around you hates you and is secretly wishing you'll run into a phone pole AND DIE!!!

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    Lestat... Oh sure, user error. But that's a far cry from most "hands-free" cell phones still require hand use to dial

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    I have to admit that all the phones I've used don't have very good hands-free options.

    Mine is supposed to allow you to tell the phone to call someone, but I still have to hit a button on the phone for it to do that. And it takes several tries before it finally gets that I want to call "home."

    It's faster to just hold down the "2," which calls home. 3 calls my mom and dad. 4 is my sister. and 5 is 105.1 the buzz...

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    JMG: If you're serious about safety, you have to ban both hands-free and inhand cellphones, because the studies show that using either kind of cell phone while driving essentially impairs you to the same degree as drinking a beer or two.

    Bob T: Exactly. I am totally opposed to any driver-cellphone legislation that treats the phone as if it's no different from a hamburger, soda, lipstick, or burrito in the hand. I've noted for years that people on phones (even long before they appeared in cars) tend to "float" off somewhere, partially, as if they are mentally halfway to the location of the person they are talking to.

    You could wave your hand in front of their eyes to get their attention, but they don't have the same awareness as they would if they were talking with someone actually sitting next to them. Their eyes are looking towards you but they don't really see what they need to see. Now imagine those same eyes looking through a windshield. All if takes is a half second of delayed awareness and there's your accident. A city council member in Tigard a few years ago (when Tigard address this issue) was one of the few lawmakers I know of who actually addressed this aspect of the issue (which is the only real aspect of the issue that needs addressing).

    If lawmakers continue to treat cell-phoning while driving as if it's all about the lack of a second hand on the wheel, like Gregoire up in Washington for example (just last week), then it's only a matter of time before they'll have to show consistency rather than admit their error, and start banning the holding of numerous items such as those I listed earlier.

    Bob Tiernan

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    Posted by: Jenni Simonis | May 23, 2007 5:45:33 PM

    But according to Kari that's your fault for not buying some other phone with perfect, always working, voice recongition, which also are the cheapest phones on the market.

    ;-)

  • lin qiao (unverified)
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    As for the original posting, about the ban being applied only to young drivers, perhaps the legislators were thinking about the fact that accident rates are already way higher for young drivers than other drivers, and were actually trying to come up with one fewer distraction for young drivers. Or maybe they weren't thinking along these lines at all. I don't actually know, but it seems worth at least considering before assuming this bill was about "one more excuse to stop being for driving while non-white".

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    That way, everyone can see which dumbass is on the phone (yeah, probably me) and avoid them.

    kari hits the nail on the head here. You have politician's who never want to stop talking and the cell phone lets them fulfill their life's ambition. Its the same reason we make drinking by teenagers illegal and not for adults. Politicians like to have a few now and then. The light on the car could turn on when someone is drunk too and you wouldn't need drunk driving laws. A single light could warn everyone this driver is either drunk or on a cell phone, either way watch out! because they are just as dangerous.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    ... and just as irresponsible whether its legal or not.

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    lestatdelc:

    It's a big reason why I dislike being on the phone when I'm driving.

    I do it occasionally when I need to let someone know I'm X number of minutes away, when I'm stuck in traffic or running late, etc.

    People are always surprised when I tell them if the phone rings while I'm driving, I am unlikely to pick it up.

  • nutmeg (unverified)
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    That is perhaps the most responsible action to take. WHY NOT just begin teaching folks to let the dang call go to voice mail while driving? I certainly do this when on my bike. Kind of impossible to work the phone and keep the bike moving forward upright.

    I have a non-scientific survey result that indicates 90 per cent of the drivers who almost hit me while on my bike were using their cell phone, not teens and had xx chromosome pairings.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    Kind of impossible to work the phone and keep the bike moving forward upright.

    I don't know. I remember riding on Burnside one Sunday morning out toward 82nd and there was a guy on the opposite side of the street, riding in the bike lane against traffic and talking on his cell phone. He went a good couple miles that way.

    I have a non-scientific survey result that indicates 90 per cent of the drivers who almost hit me while on my bike were using their cell phone

    I have a non-scientific survey result that indicates the same thing about the drivers who almost hit me while I was walking. Further my survey says 90% of those drivers had no idea they almost hit me. They were too busy talking to notice. I am sure they would insist it is perfectly safe for them to talk and drive at the same time.

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