Ban on ‘phoning and driving’ is a simple matter of safety |

Ban on ‘phoning and driving’ is a simple matter of safety

Councilman Terry Paulson should be commended for pushing ahead with his proposal to crack down on those who drive and yak on their cellular phones at the same time.

And while many might see this as another attempt to bash the wheeler-dealers, it is actually a matter of public safety. It is simply a fact that a person talking on a phone is not paying full attention to the road in front of him. Anyone who has attempted to drive through Aspen’s crowded streets knows that it takes two hands on the wheel and undivided concentration to keep from running someone down.

Stories abound in this town of cell-phone-yakking drivers coasting through stop signs, weaving into oncoming lanes as they negotiate turns, and narrowly missing pedestrians at crosswalks. Ask anyone who drives or walks around Aspen and they will have at least one story about a near-death experience with a person driving while chatting.

And if our personal stories were not enough, a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine in 1997 discovered an alarming statistic: Using a cell phone while driving quadruples the risk of accidents.

Similar statistics exist for drinking and driving. The laws punishing those who drink and drive have progressively grown more harsh, yet we let phone users with one hand on the wheel, one eye on the road and half a brain on what they’re doing roam our roads. It is time to end this practice before someone gets killed.

Some people have said passing such a law would be a waste of time. It would be just like the seat belt law – almost impossible to enforce, they argue. The council should not be swayed by that argument.

A police officer cannot easily see if a person is strapped in as he drives by in his cruiser. Someone with a cell phone stuck in his ear is much more obvious. We would encourage the Aspen Police Department to vigilantly enforce such a law if the City Council enacts it.

Moreover, a person who is not wearing a seat belt is only a threat to himself, not to other people on the road. A cell-phone-talking driver, however, is a threat to other drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and anyone else attempting to share the road.

A small town in Ohio is apparently the only place in the country that has enacted a law prohibiting the use of cell phones while on the road. We expect it took some guts to get that law on the books. We are hopeful that our own council members possess the same mettle.

The council has directed the city staff to spend the next 30 days studying the safety question. While we believe that’s not really necessary – that it’s rather obvious that driving while phoning is not safe, – it is good to see that the council is moving forward. We encourage the council to, at the end of that 30 days, make our town a safer place for both its residents and its visitors.

And, for those who think such a measure too harsh, we can only say that we have given serious consideration to promulgating a proposal to make this entire town a “no cell phone” zone. We have thought about urging a new law similar to the one in the Old West that required gunmen to check their “shooting irons” with the sheriff when they rode into town. Indeed, it is attractive to think about requiring every one to check their cell phones with Sheriff Bob Braudis as soon as they cross the city limits.

But, for now, we’ll just settle for a ban on phoning and driving. That might save our lives. The other would only save our civilization.

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