Letter: All Cell-Phone Use Distracts Drivers

To the Editor:

As an attorney who has represented hundreds of people injured in car accidents throughout the state of New Hampshire, I was distressed to read that New Hampshire State Rep. Sylvia Gale is planning to introduce legislation that will prohibit drivers from talking or reading text messages on a cell phone unless they use a hands-free device.

My objection is not that the law will put injury lawyers out of work. To the contrary. The exception in the proposed law — allowing drivers to talk and text using hands-free devices — is a recipe for more accidents, more injuries and more fatalities.

Numerous research studies have proven that hands-free cell phone use is no safer than hand-held cell phone use. It is a fallacy to think that the distraction caused by cell phone use is the handling of the device. Rather, the distraction is a cognitive one. Drivers who are chatting or texting on a hands-free device are not focusing on the task at hand. In fact, a driver using a hands-free device is more likely to be involved in a collision than a driver with a blood alcohol content at the legal limit of .08 percent.

Rep. Gale is absolutely right to be concerned about cell-phone use by drivers. But legislation that exempts hands-free use would not be merely ineffective — it would be dangerous, since it would encourage hands-free use, putting more distracted drivers behind the wheel.

This legislation, as proposed, would just result in more accidents, more tragedies and, frankly, more work for personal injury lawyers. If the Legislature were serious about ridding our highways of distracted drivers, it would outlaw all cell-phone use behind the wheel.

Charlie Buttrey