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Cell Phone Driving Law

Original post made by Resident on Jul 27, 2008

I was driving through Palo Alto the other night and saw police officers stop someone for briefly picking up a cell phone, not even talking on it (it appeared that they had answered it and said they were driving and put it down).

I think this law is ridiculous, because police officers should be doing their job of protecting a city instead of focusing on smaller things like cell phone use! With rising crime rates, I think police should be driving around and patrolling streets while looking for drunk drivers, people that are speeding, and those that look suspicious.

What do you think?

Comments (37)

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 27, 2008 at 1:16 am

Today I saw an idiot driver who was, yes, on a cell phone. Made me realize that since the law passed, I've noticed I've seen less godawful driving.

Drivers around here tend to drive too fast and too aggressively. With cell phones, you could throw in not paying attention on top of it.

I worry a lot more about my kid getting hit by a car than I do about a random kidnapper showing up. So I'm all for having people pay attention when handling their very own deadly weapon.

So I'm for enforcing the cell-phone law--I think we're safer because of it.



Posted by MH, a resident of another community
on Jul 27, 2008 at 1:36 am

I don't think erratic driving is connected to cell phone use. People that aren't paying attention while driving are just not going to pay attention. People space out all the time, eat, do other things too. And having conversation on bluetooth is just as distracting as talking on cell phone. Same thing. Look at the research.


Posted by tired of whiners, a resident of another community
on Jul 27, 2008 at 8:03 am

Around town,

How do you know what the police stopped the driver for? It sounds maybe it was you who was stopped and you are making excuses. This law, however petty it may seem, is still a law.


Posted by safety first, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 27, 2008 at 9:44 am

Tired, I think you nailed it. Resident "barely touched" the phone and was nabbed by the cruel police who were enforcing the law. Wahhhh.

I agree with OhlonePar about the decrease in erratic driving since the law went into effect. People drive better with both hands on the wheel, even if they are talkign.


Posted by Driver, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2008 at 10:50 am

Turn your phone off when driving, or put it on the back seat. Then you won't be tempted to answer it.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2008 at 10:54 am

Why don't you ask the former Mayor of Menlo Park who ran over a girls leg and then back over it again while talking on her cellphone? She made a deal to hush this up in exchange for getting out of public life.


Posted by No 'phones, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 27, 2008 at 1:14 pm

If you pass a law like no cell phones, you have to enforce it, just another job for our Traffic Officers to do. Meanwhile, PA wants to ban smoking in our parks - whose going to enforce such a ban. Just another job for our over-extended Police Department.


Posted by Walter E. Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 27, 2008 at 3:26 pm

When you elect a fascist, you have no right to question how he makes the trains run on time.


Posted by Mike, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 28, 2008 at 5:06 pm

I strongly disagree with the idea that cellphone use and erratic driving are not related. It will make a good driver bad and a bad driver worse. I have had several close calls by drivers talking and not watching their driving. I have not used my cell driving for over three years because I could see myself potentially causing an accident.

I am happy to see the PA police actually enforcing the law. Usually if they do not like a law they will not pay attention to it. The leaf blower law is useless because nobody wants to enforce it. Not even the green types are not up in arms about it.You can drive down virtually any Palo Alto street in the daytime and see numerous violations.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 29, 2008 at 12:33 am

I'm not saying that that cell phone use and driving are completely unrelated. Obviously, however, none of you have taken advanced coursework in a psychology related field because research shows that it is not the holding of the phone but ENGAGING IN THE CONVERSATION that is distracting and dangerous.

Therefore, even with a hands free device if you are talking to someone you are focusing about the same amount as you are when you are holding the phone. This is relatively the same, I guess you could argue that holding a phone is slightly more dangerous but there is really not that much of a difference.

This is what research shows, and not merely my opinion. The issue is that most police officers, and citizens are not highly educated in this field and only think in terms of the obvious.


Posted by back seat driver, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 29, 2008 at 9:17 am

The "obvious" is that we have observed cell phone drivers apparently in la-la land and oblivious to the cars around them. Whereas most cell-less drivers are capable of engaging in casual conversation with passengers while maintaining their normal level of driving.

The law was necessary because cell phone drivers (like Resident?) seemed to think that they could continue to drive safely while talking on their phones. It's the same reason we have laws against people driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Instead of insulting us, Resident, how about dealing with the fact that you got busted, putting your cell phone on the backseat as another poster recommended, and enjoying a much safer driving experience thanks to the new law.


Posted by To Anonymous, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 29, 2008 at 9:44 am

How can us MP residents get more info on the former MP mayor who ran over the girl's leg?


Posted by Cranberry, a resident of The Greenhouse
on Jul 29, 2008 at 10:05 am

Resident, your last point is well taken, but not taken far enough. It IS the conversation itself that's the most distracting part of cell phone use, not the phone itself. However, it's not conversation in general that's dangerous. If the person on the other end were sitting next to you, they'd know when to engage you and when to pause the conversation based on a common awareness of the surrounding driving conditions. Likewise, you'd be free to pause the conversation as the demands on your driving dictate.

This cell phone phenomenon isn't restricted to just driving. Think of a person standing in a store's checkout line, talking on their cell phone. They're rude as can be when they get to the cashier and start doing hand signals & nods, oblivious to the people around them. Take away the cell phone and place the person next to them and everything changes. The conversation pauses as the situation dictates.

So where you say that any conversation is potentially distracting therefore don't single out cell phone use, I say that cell phone conversations are uniquely more distracting therefore banning handhelds while driving is not a bad thing.

My pet peeve? That the law doesn't include text messaging.


Posted by old-timer, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 29, 2008 at 10:09 am

She was not using her cell phone while driving, and was held not responsible for the accident in which a girl darted out into the street from between parked cars. The parents claimed the cell phone was involved, but that was not substantiated. She said she used it only after the accident to call for help.

I have no love for our former mayor but think she has suffered enough over this accident that happened almost 10 years ago. Don't worry, Anon, she has been out of politics for years.


Posted by To Old-Timer, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 29, 2008 at 11:25 am

From your description, it does sound vaguely familiar. Interesting the different povs on the story. Which mayor was it? Was the girl ok?


Posted by old-timer, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 29, 2008 at 11:31 am

I'm as big a gossip as they come, but see no reason to further malign the poor woman on a public forum. The girl was okay, think she may have broken her leg which is not great but not that serious in the scheme of things.


Posted by Mike, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 29, 2008 at 11:41 am

Back to no-hands:

Resident, it is pompous to state that 'Obviously, however, none of you have taken advanced coursework in a psychology related field'

Most of us have the very best information on this possible: we have noted our own behavior and observed that of friends while talking on a cell. Hands free is a good start. A few months back I was almost broadsided by a woman on her cell trying to turn a corner in a SUV with one hand.

But yes, the law needs to be no cell use at all. 90% of your brain is swapped out. And texting has definitely got to go. A month ago I watched a guy driving towards me from a stoplight looking down at his lap and not the windshield. Until that moment it never occurred to me that someone would text or email while driving.

I do not use the phone driving. That is what voicemail is for. I care as much about others' safety as my own (well, almost)


Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 29, 2008 at 12:25 pm

This post is ridiculous!


Posted by suzie, a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2008 at 12:31 pm

Since the hands free cell phone law went into effect I have seen many who have not gotten the message....driving along with their cell phones to their ears, talking as if they had no worries. I hope the police stay vigilant to these scofflaws...they are dangerous!


Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 29, 2008 at 1:07 pm

This law is preemptive and therefore bad law.
The law should be that IF you are in an accident, the fact that you were using a cell phone can be used against you in deciding fault.
I have no doubt that many are capable of using a cell phone and driving responsibly; they should not be penalized.


Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 29, 2008 at 2:23 pm

R Wray wants people to be hurt before holding drivers responible for their behavior. Should we do the same with drinking? Do you think that there are people who can safely drive while drunk, so we should not penalize them until they kill someone? I personally don't see any reason that anyone should use a phone while driving. It can't possibly make them a better or safer driver, so it can only improve safety to ban it. Remember that emergencies are exceptions.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 29, 2008 at 2:36 pm

Pre-emptive laws aren't a bad thing. Laws about obeying green and red lights are, by R. Wray's definition, pre-emptive. However, they help ensure road safety.

Same with seatbelt laws.

As for cell phone use--sure, it could go further. However, one of the risks of handhelds is that people will hear a cellphone ring and then get distracted picking up the phone and answering it. So, in that way, non-handhelds are safer.

As I recall, the accident that almost killed model Nicki Taylor came about because the driver was trying to answer a cell phone.

So, yeah, there are other unsafe driving practices, doesn't mean we should ignore this one. I'm not for ignoring drunken driving either.

I suspect the cops are quite willing to enforce the law because they've all seen accidents.

As for myself, it means that I just don't talk on the cell phone when driving. And fewer people call me on my cell. It works.


Posted by Milt, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 29, 2008 at 2:45 pm

"Pre-emptive laws aren't a bad thing. Laws about obeying green and red lights are, by R. Wray's definition, pre-emptive. However, they help ensure road safety.

Same with seatbelt laws. "

Seat belt laws, unlike the other laws cited by OP, protect only the alleged violators of the law. While it makes sense to keep people from doing things that might endanger others - like running red lights and speaking on a cell phone while driving - it is less clear that the law in free society should protect people from themselves.

It seems to me like people should be permitted to do what others think is stupid of the only person endangered is oneself.

The argument that "society" picks up the bill when someone harms him or herself is a very slippery slope. Under that reasoning, I suppose the government can pass all kinds of nanny laws specifying what people can do and eat, and how much they have to exercise.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2008 at 2:51 pm

I think cell phones should be banned from checkout lines too.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 29, 2008 at 2:56 pm

Milt,

Actually, seatbelt laws protect people from other idiot drivers--i.e. the one rear-ending you. The seatbelt will keep you from going through the windshield. (And the carseat in the back is also protecting your kid.

It's also, of course, protecting the insurance companies . . .

Keep in mind that driving's a privilege not a right, so it's always been subject to restrictions. I mean, what about the fact you can't legally drive without being photographed and fingerprinted?


Posted by Peter, a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2008 at 2:59 pm

I think that people with tiny Bluetooth earpieces walking around talking, seemingly to the air, should be required to have blue lights atop their heads that would flash during their calls. This simple device would reassure the rest of us that the Bluetoothers have not skipped their meds and started talking to those people the rest of us can't see or hear. This would also reduce the number of calls to the EMTs to come take the talkers someplace safe.


Posted by Shannon, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 29, 2008 at 3:25 pm

This law is just a reason for the cops to pull you over, and find something worse you've done. No insurance, license suspension, warrant, etc.


Posted by Susan, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 29, 2008 at 3:38 pm

I agree, we would ideally be safer on the road if nobody talked on their cell phones. But will this really stop people? I think this law could potentially make it less safe because people may be hiding their phones if they want to use them.
I noticed many of you bringing up examples of people getting into accidents while using a cell phone. But think of how many accidents occur when nobody is on the cell phone. Most of them occur without cell phone use so your examples dont necessarily prove that it is the cell phone that is causing the problem. And just because cell phone driving is banned, does that mean people will stop eating in their car or applying makeup or looking through papers or adjusting their GPS systems? Should we now ban those In-n-out eat in your car orders? There are just so many other things that can cause problems, and now people have the opportunity to not only talk on bluetooth but eat at the same time, or do other things.
Again, ideally I think the logic behind the cell phone ban is good. However, there are so many other obstacles and issues that are in the way that I question how effective the law is going to be.


Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 29, 2008 at 4:26 pm

In my context, preemption has to do with "appropriation of something beforehand". The right to use a cell phone while driving is being appropriated before adverse consequences occur. A small percentage of cell phone users cause accidents. (I would bet that more accidents are caused by distractions from radios, CD players, GPS systems, food and drink, makeup, passenger conversation, etc.) Drunk driving and red light running are not in the same class. Some distinction must be made. Otherwise, logic would have us banning all driving because there are accidents.


Posted by Peter, a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2008 at 4:32 pm

I wasn't aware that there was a "right to use a cell phone while driving." There's not even a right to drive; it's a privilege, and it's regulated by the state.


Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 29, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Milt said "Seat belt laws, unlike the other laws cited by OP, protect only the alleged violators of the law". This is a commonly-held fallacy. If you get injured in a car crash, we all pay for the medical care and insurance costs. We all pay for the police and emergency personell who go to the scene, respond and investigate. We may pay for damage caused to public property, or suffer long delays due to a freeway closure. If you die or are seriously incapacitated, there is an economic loss to society as well as a major emotional impact on your family and that of anyone else involved.

There are many people who suffer anytime anyone gets injured or killed in a car crash, which is why we try so hard to prevent them instead of just cleaning up after them.


Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 29, 2008 at 5:19 pm

Peter, so your definition of "right" is anything the State gives you permission to do?


Posted by Peter, a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2008 at 5:34 pm

R Wray: No it isn't.


Posted by sarlat, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 29, 2008 at 5:39 pm

For years, psychologists who study driving and attention have argued that switching to "hands free" is not a real solution to the hazards caused by yakking on the mobile in the car. "The impairments aren't because your hands aren't on the wheel. It's because your mind isn't on the road," says David Strayer, professor of psychology at the University of Utah, whose research has found driving while talking on a cellphone to be as dangerous as driving drunk

Now neuroscience is showing your mind literally isn't on the road. The overtaxed driver's poor brain doesn't distinguish between a conversation that takes place on an iPhone or a Bluetooth headset. In both cases, the chatting driver is distracted, putting herself, her passengers, other drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians at risk.

Say there's an 18-wheeler to your right, an R.V. to your left, and suddenly a call comes in from that motormouth client in Los Angeles. As the client's voice starts buzzing in your ear, the activity in the parts of your brain keeping your car in your lane declines.

"Forty percent of your attention is drawn away when you're on the phone," says Marcel Just, a psychologist who directs Carnegie Mellon's Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging. That goes for you too, Mr. Multitasker.

Enforcing the law with the chronic shortage of cops is a legitimate issue to ponder, but the law is a hundred percent spot on and long overdue.


Posted by sarlat, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 29, 2008 at 6:27 pm

What I should've pointed out is that although the current ban on cellphone use without a headset does not prevent drivers from getting distracted, it's a move in the right direction. The addiction to cellphones is so prevalent, that going cold turkey would've been a massive shock to the system of millions of drivers. The next step should be a total ban on the use of cellphones in a vehicle while the vehicle is moving, and we shouldn't wait more than a year or two.


Posted by Jon, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 30, 2008 at 2:09 pm

Stop making excuses for the guy, the law, while as imperfect as it is, is in the right step towards safer drivers.

IF you really need to talk on the phone, explore your cellphone's speakerphone function. As soon as the call is connected, you should see a speaker icon or within options, you can change it to speakerphone.

It's not perfect and nowhere near as effective as a bluetooth set, but it is good for those trying to tell whoever is calling they are on the phone.

Oh, did I forget to mention this wonderful thing they invented not-so-recently called voicemail?


Posted by Jeff, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2008 at 2:46 pm

I agree. The police need to not be dealing with this and need to concentrate their time dealing wit the major crimes that happen all the time in Palo Alto. Maybe if this tool followed the law than the police wouldn't have to deal with him or her and they can pay more attention to the atrocities that are happening around Palo Alto on a daily basis.


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