Is there room here for a "harm-reduction" approach to cell phone use?

I’ve posted a few times in this sub-forum, in posts regarding whether or not cell-phone use is ever acceptable while driving. I seem to have taken a fair amount of flack from my position that cell-phone use isn’t intrinsically dangerous, IF confined to low-workload segments of travel, conversations are deliberately brief, and both parties are ready to disconnect immediately if needed. Basically, arguing that cell-phone use, per se, isn’t the problem…lack of rigorous self-discipline while using a cellphone is.

But then, it occurred to me that I’m in substantial agreement with the majority of anti-cell-users: I agree that indiscriminate use of phones while driving is dangerous, I think that cell phones should not be used during technical parts of travel, or where driver is unfamiliar with the area, etc…I just bristle at the absolutist stance…guess it must be a contrarian streak or something.

That said, what about a “harm-reduction” approach? Identifying those times in which cell phone use is especially dangerous, and coaching drivers against use in those instances. Essentially acknowledging, “we know many motorists will never cease using phones entirely, regardless of penalty…so we want to educate to allow such use as occurs to occur as safely as possible.”

I once argued much the same idea to a vegan cousin of mine: if the goal is to reduce “aggregate # of animals eaten,” wouldn’t it be more profitable to focus on making “profligately non-compliant” veggies into “marginally compliant,” vs. trying to make “mostly compliant” folks into “absolutely compliant?”

Same argument here: if somebody agrees to NEVER use a cell while driving…well, they probably weren’t using it much to begin with. If you can, however, reach out to profligate users and teach them to be judicious in their use…you’ve probably cut out more cell use than in the first example.

Are you familiar with the term “stuff happens” or other words to that effect? Even in a “low workload” segment, an emergency can suddenly crop up.

Heres a feature if anyone here is working for a cell phone company, a one button “I’m driving” feature where at the push of one button, the phone will go into a do not disturb mode, send the call to voice mail with the answering message “I’m driving right now, I will send three short beeps to the driver to let them know that you have called. Please leave a short message.”

When I’m driving and the phone rings…I answer it. That’s just a quick flip open, no eyes/mind off the road.
depending on the call…

I can’t NOT answer it, it’s way too far to drive just to learn I should have done something waaay back there …’‘on your way home bring…’'
I MUST co-ordinate trips from one end of town and back.

I love that idea about selectable voice mail messeges though.
It’s far too time consuming to keep changing your messege back and forth. But what if you could pre-record a few to select from ? That sounds like an idea there.

@keith you can already do that on Android phones (in a number of different ways). I wouldn’t be surprised if you can do it with iPhones too, but I’ve no experience with them.

@meanjoe75fan I’ve caught flak here for the same thing. I tend to advocate behavior-based enforcement rather than equipment-based enforcement. If you’re driving perfectly, I don’t really care if you’re talking on the phone or eating a hamburger.

If you’re driving like a moron, I think you should get the book thrown at you no matter what you are playing with to distract yourself, even if you weren’t doing anything but driving. The thing that irritates me about cell phone bans is that even someone who’s driving perfectly can get pulled over for using one - and while the cop is writing that guy a ticket, 100 crappy drivers are weaving past the traffic stop. It doesn’t make sense.

I don’t have as much of a problem with it if someone is out on the open road with little traffic or distraction but that opinion could be because most of the roads around here are arrow straight and lightly traveled. In heavy traffic or city use I’m of the opinion that someone should pull over though.

A great many people seem compelled to remain connected to someone else via phone every minute of their wakeful life. It doesn’t make sense to me though. I enjoy my solitude.

Our official policy is pull off the road to talk, seems simple enough. re vegan, plants are living while you chew them up or cook them. How is that a good thing? or realistically different. Plants have feelings also, But I’ll eat salad, oysters, dead cow, whatever.

With many people, if they have 5000 minutes a month on their plan they’re going to burn every one of them come hxxx or high water… :slight_smile:

Since it’s been proven talking on the phone provides more cognitive interference than driving drunk, I’ll ask you how you would apply your “harm-reduction” approach to driving drunk.

You can moderate how much you drink so you stay under the legal BAC limit, but how will you know, while you’re talking on a cell phone, the moment your cognitive abilities cross the limit of safety? I don’t think you can.

if somebody agrees to NEVER use a cell while driving...well, they probably weren't using it much to begin with.

I challenge that assumption. I use my cell phone a lot, but it really doesn’t create that much of a hardship to pull over first. I think your “harm-reduction” approach solves a problem that doesn’t really exist. Nobody is asking you to change the world. They’re just asking you to take some personal responsibility to be sure that, when you’re driving, you’re only driving, and not attempting to divide your attention. (I would call it “multitasking,” but there is no such thing. The ability to concentrate on more than one thing at a time is a myth.)

Without getting into our age-old argument about cell phone bans vs bad driving bans, I wonder what your thoughts are on what would happen if your suggestion - pull over when the phone rings - were universally adopted by drivers across the country. At some point, it seems, we would either need to ban that behavior, or widen the shoulders to make room for all the people who are on the phone.


Yeah, decelerating, pulling on the berm, and merging again has its own safety issues…hard to say without testing if they’d be greater or lesser than just taking the call…for me, if it’s too congested for me to take the call, it’s too congested to justify pulling over.

Over a half-century of CB use has convincingly demonstrated that 2-way remote conversations are capable of being conducted with a reasonable level of safety. Given that, it seems awful arbitrary to me to ban JUST cell phones–you’re effectively writing a ticket for “transmitting on the wrong radio frequency!”

Why, then, to folks “rally 'round” the cause of banning cell phones…while giving a free pass to CB, GPS, eating food, fighting with the GF, etc…seems to fail the test of “logical consistency.”


Exactly what I’ve been saying for years (and one of the reasons I’m pleased LaHood is out).

First, please note that I refer to all driving distractions as being cognitive issues, not just using a cell phone.

Second, the 1970s called, and they want their CB radios back. Seriously, CB use was really big about 35 years ago, but who uses a CB radio now? Even most truck drivers don’t turn on their CB radios unless they’re waiting for a load and the person in the warehouse wants to contact them by CB to let them know they’re ready or done loading.

Third, you don’t have to pull over on the shoulder of a limited access highway to talk on your phone. You can get off at the next exit, rest area, or truck weigh station and do it safely. How many of the calls that you receive can’t wait five minutes? Unless you’re an ER doctor, trauma surgeon, transplant surgeon, or S.W.A.T. officer, you might have an over-inflated sense of self-importance if you think every call you get has to be answered right away.

(I would call it “multitasking,” but there is no such thing. The ability to concentrate on more than one thing at a time is a myth.)

That statement tells us more about Whitey than anything else. In my younger years, as I stated on another thread, I could indeed concentrate on more than one thing. No myth. This is called projection, when someone assumes his experience is universal.

I agree with OP. On the open highway away from the metropolitan areas, it is possible to have a ten second area around you, perhaps even more. Examples, some places in Illinois away from Chicago; Iowa; Nebraska, and other places.

So, you are motoring along no cars, trucks, or pedestrians within maybe 1/8 miles, and a semi-truck with double trailers is going to drop out of the sky in front of you?

The only risk is a deer coming out of no where, and deer get hit all the time, even when people have no distractions.

I agree that as a general rule laws should be behavior oriented. And, people should be taught to accurately evaluate their own capacities, as Whitey has done. And, as I have done. However, in the end laws cannot fix stupid.

I’ll take this opportunity to jump back on my soap box regarding making licenses to be displayed for easy viewing from the rear of automobiles and color coded to denote such factors as a DUI history, learners permit, restrictions such as reduced speed, corrective lenses, use of freeways, etc. I think that the drivers who have a problem with their phones would let their inattention cause them to be ticketed often and result in a restriction and law enforcement would do well to pay closer attention to the habitual problem drivers.

Where do you want this box?

Near got run over by lady on a cell turning right on red. and forgetting there might be a pedestrian. Sure I was fine because I jump pretty good, sure she will wonder why her door was dented because I kicked it.

@irlandes, I am not projecting. As a matter of fact, I completely disregard my personal experience in this matter, and refer only to the science. I am citing scientific studies that support this every time they study the issue:

“What we pay attention to is profoundly influenced by memory. Our previous experience predicts where we should pay attention. Culture matters too. Whether in school or in business, these differences can greatly effect how an audience perceives a given presentation. We pay attention to things like emotions, threats and sex. Regardless of who you are, the brain pays a great deal of attention to these questions: Can I eat it? Will it eat me? Can I mate with it? Will it mate with me? Have I seen it before? The brain is not capable of multi-tasking. We can talk and breathe, but when it comes to higher level tasks, we just can’t do it. Driving while talking on a cell phone is like driving drunk. The brain is a sequential processor and large fractions of a second are consumed every time the brain switches tasks. This is why cell-phone talkers are a half-second slower to hit the brakes and get in more wrecks.” -

One “study showed that 2.5% of people are actually super-multi-taskers and can somehow switch from task to task with ease. Interestingly, most people think they are in that 2.5%.” -

irlandes, you should know me by now. If you really knew me, you’d know that I am aware of the “projection” issue. I don’t base my opinions regarding important matters on something as trivial and limited as my experience.

I can see it now ;
( Allowing room in the law for marginal use of cell phones will simply open the door for massive argument 'tween officers and drivers and judges. EVERYONE will try those ‘‘allowable’’ circumstances as their stupid excuse that they should not be ticketed. )

" but officer I was just…"

I think the multitasking issue falls somewhere in the middle. Of course we can multitask. I can swim and breathe at the same time without drowning. I can walk and chew gum at the same time without screwing up either task.

The multitasking studies generally flow around office workers checking email and/or social media every 3 minutes while trying to get work done, and it turns out they’re not very efficient at getting work done when they keep switching to email/facebook/car talk/whatever. To that, the only apt reaction would be “well, duh.”

However, it has been demonstrated that humans can talk and do other tasks at the same time. It has even been demonstrated that humans can talk and drive at the same time (case in point being the previously mentioned CB radios, which may not be used much now, but in the past were, while driving, to no detrimental effects save the cop who keeps getting exposed by truckers). In fact, it has further been demonstrated that humans can talk and operate vehicles which are much more complex than a car - case in point, pilots, who can use the radio without crashing. And that’s not even mentioning military pilots who can use the radio, on multiple frequencies, while not crashing, and while being shot at/shooting at other planes.

Therefore, since we have ample evidence that at least some humans can talk and pilot a vehicle at the same time, it would seem to be illogical to target the behavior of talking rather than the behavior of driving like a moron.