Our obsession with cellphones has all but obliterated the wisdom of driver’s education, which taught us to keep two hands on the wheel.
That’s impossible when one hand is holding the cellphone affixed to a driver’s ear. Not exactly a safe strategy. In fact, it can be deadly.
Drivers distracted by cellphones contributed to 3,144 accidents, 30 deaths and 1,448 injuries in Kansas between 2010 and 2015, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.
The Kansas Legislature has two bills before it that could bring those numbers down. Lawmakers have a choice. They can either tackle the problem or waffle.
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One proposal, Senate Bill 144, would ban cellphone use in school and road construction zones. Obviously, it’s a good idea to stop inattentive drivers from careening into school crosswalks or hitting workers trying to pave a roadway.
But Senate Bill 99 goes further, banning the use of cellphones held in the driver’s hand altogether. No freebie spots on the roadways where you can get away with it.
Too many drivers can’t keep their phones out of their hands when they’re behind the wheel. Forcing them to hang up the cellphone only near schools or construction sites isn’t enough.
Using a hands-free, voice-activated device is still allowed under this proposal.
Current Kansas law bans only inexperienced drivers from using a cellphone while driving. Texting is banned for everyone. In Missouri, drivers 21 and under are banned from texting; there is no ban on cellphone use.
Kansas is aligned with the vast majority of states. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in 2016, 37 states barred teens from using a cellphone while driving.
But now Kansas should take the next step to make its roads safer. So far, 14 states and the District of Columbia have banned cellphone use by anyone, unless they are using hands-free technology.
The heavy focus on youth drivers is understandable, to a point. A poll by AAA found that 94 percent of teen drivers admitted understanding the dangers of texting and driving, but 35 percent fessed up to doing it anyway.
Yet anyone who has spent time driving can attest that it’s not simply inexperienced drivers who are negligent. Busy moms shuttling an SUV full of children around are often just as guilty, as are harried office workers, people in a rush to get to a lunch date, and yes, reporters late for an assignment.
Compelling social media campaigns have been launched in recent years to try to correct our bad behaviors with cellphones. Don’t text, #Just Drive and #ItCanWait are among them.
But messaging can accomplish only so much. It’s past time for firmer measures. Make it a law: No yapping on the cellphone while driving in Kansas.