Quite some time ago I spent countless hours behind the wheel of commercial vehicles, to the point that I have caught my wife in conversation with others quoting, “Don’t you know? He is a professional driver.”  This usually results in shared chuckles by others, as it is reportedly a commonly recurring outward expression of the Y chromosome, likely overlooked by the mapping of the human genome, and barring XX chromosome counterparts such as Danica Patrick hopefuls on public streets. What I do take to heart from driver training seminars and having held a commercial license in the past in order to drive heavy commercial equipment inclusive of moving trucks, ten wheeler dumps, commercial buses, flatbeds with trailers and an occasional 40-foot 26-ton lead lined mobile CT unit, is that the majority of us on the road are not adept enough to drive while holding objects in our hands.  Just like the driver who drove through three children in a crosswalk on their way to school just over a year ago.  Or the person who rear ended two lifelong motorcyclists en route to a motorcycle manufacturing conference in the middle of the day, who were stopped with their feet on the ground in bumper-to-bumper traffic.  The driver had taken his eyes off the road for less than a second, but had been too distracted to process the change in traffic flow.

It has been determined that driving while using cell phones and/or texting is often associated with a deeper intangible distraction of not being fully attentive behind the wheel, to a greater degree than when intoxicated.  “When controlling for driving difficulty and time on task, cell-phone drivers exhibited greater impairment then intoxicated drivers.” There are more than 100,000,000 cell phone subscribers in the US that use cell phones while driving.  Strayer, Drews, & Crouch, 2006 Human Dept. of Psychology, 48(2):381-391. More than 30 states prohibit texting, more than a dozen the use of cell phones without hands free capability, and collectively, the majority prohibit all phone or electronic devices for drivers under 18 years old.

NH House Bill 1360 prohibits the use of hand held phones and electronic devices while driving, including while stopped at a red light.  It does permit the use of phones and devices that operate through hands free and blue tooth technology.  The bill further bans the use of all technology regardless of hands free capabilities for drivers under the age of 18.  Opponents of the bill were noted as having concerns that the bill is too restrictive and overarching, that it over governs drivers’ free will and that it would even restrict drivers being able to respond to an emergency from their personal contacts who might be trying to reach them while traveling.  Such rebuttal is not relevant to the premise of the bill or the years of data supporting it.  To foster the necessary culture change rather than having to kick the habit entirely, is the ever readily available and affordable technology for drivers to use hands free devices. 

Driver behavior must be modified to check messages only when pulled off to the roadside or when parked when hands free technology is not available.  In the event that a driver needs to call 911 without hands free technology, it is unlikely that they would be faulted for a gross violation; rather this could be understood as a necessary circumstance with more benefit than associated risk.  However, there is legitimate concern regarding the inherent challenges with enforcing the law, which will be coming to New Hampshire roadways very soon.

“Gov. Maggie Hassan has signed into law a statewide ban on handheld cell phone use by drivers. The measure cleared the legislature in May [2014] and takes effect July 1, 2015. Fines range from $100 (first offense) to $500. The education/marketing push is under way, with the slogan, “Hands Free, a Better Way to Be.” The governor said the new law tackles, “an increasing danger that we must address.”  Refer to Hands Free Info, updated March 23, 2015, for related supporting legislation. 

Along with law enforcement having the right to seize cell phones to determine if they were in use while driving should be a commonly shared public health responsibility and accountability for all drivers. All of us need to share the awareness for our own safety and for others who are put at risk everyday by those of us who can’t modify a very dangerous and self-serving behavior.  Fortunately, technological intervention is a means to continue using phones while driving, with technology getting even slicker very quickly.

So, there is no need to see droves of drivers whizzing by with their heads cocked or bobbing up and down while keyboard fingering, their hands held out like waiters holding a tray of plates, or other device related distractions, that hugely increase the chance of crashing, and injuring or killing someone.

Spread the word.  It will save someone’s life.   


Lukas Kolm, MD, MPH

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