This Victoria Times-Colonist editorial has its heart in the right place, but reaches an erroneous conclusion.
I understand that using a mobile phone sucks up valuable brain computing cycles and thus increases one’s reaction time by a factor of four while driving. I accept that, according to the latest research, the degree of impairment caused by using a hands-free phone is the same as that caused by using a handheld phone. Nor do I dispute that, in a perfect world, human beings would have the sense not to talk on mobile phones at all while driving. I am no longer a mobile phone aficianado myself, having gotten to the point where my own phone is a relatively basic RAZR (no internet, no GPS, no App Store) borrowed from a friend. Despite all this, I perceive banning cell phone use for drivers to be stupid and impractical.
Back in 1989 such a ban might have been possible, before the devices became ubiquitous and everyone became accustomed to using them. Right now the Canadian wireless market is supposed to be hovering near 65% saturation, meaning there is still plenty of room for new sales and more growth. For those that can read the writing on the wall, the message is: wireless devices are not going anywhere, their usage (at this point) is only going to increase, and policing their growing use on the road will be an enormous and laughable waste of law enforcement time.
We already have cadres of people who are trained to communicate and operate vehicles at the same time (pilots, police and emergency services), so perhaps a better way forward would be to teach the Average Joe or Jane how to mitigate the inherent risk. Pilots learn little turns of phrase like “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate” to remind them of the necessary order of operations. The first responsibility is to keep the plane controlled and flying; second priority is knowing where you are going; the third is staying in regular contact with air traffic control. They also—importantly—learn to be brief, so as not to clog the frequency when others are trying to communicate. This also would have some resonance for personal communications, for while you are not hogging air time away from anyone else, you are lowering your ability to respond to environmental or mechanical challenges around you. The briefer you are, the better.
Instead of trying to roll back time to a point before these devices existed, it would be more practical to accept their use and alter the design of our vehicles and thoroughfares accordingly. We could be designing vehicles and roadways with strategically placed sensors, so that when a paired wireless device goes active, the vehicle itself assumes control over navigation and separation from other traffic. When the paired device stops being active, guidance can be returned to the human driver. In my mind this is the only sensible way forward into a future where wireless devices get increasingly commonplace and indispensable.
Whatever one’s personal preferences, it is clear that our future is going to include more, not fewer, wireless devices. It would not be a bad idea to try and adapt ourselves accordingly, instead of doggedly trying to preserve driving as it was before this technology existed.