The Chapel Hill Town Council is taking a proactive role in a societal discussion by voting to hold a forum on drivers’ cell phone use.
The town’s discussion will open a valuable dialogue that can help serve as a model for other towns and states, not to mention save lives.
During last week’s meeting, the council adopted a resolution to hold a public forum Feb. 22 to weigh the prospect of regulating cell phone use by drivers within the town limits.
Many questions loom as to what such regulation would look like, what jurisdiction the town has to impose such a regulation or whether any legislative approval is needed.
But uncertainty about the logistics of implementing the ban should not stop the town from pressing forward on exploring the idea further and seeking input from the public — the most important stakeholder in this process.
Clearly, talking on a cell phone while driving is more distracting than solely focusing on the road. A 2006 study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reviewed studies on driving and talking and found that the risk of crashing is four times higher for drivers using cell phones.
But the effects of this distraction are difficult to quantify.
A study published in January by the Highway Loss Data Institute found no change in month-to-month fluctuations in collision claims after jurisdictions banned cell phone use by drivers, even though separate surveys showed a reduction in cell phone use.
But a new study by researchers at the University of Illinois found statistically lower fatal accident rates in 10 counties in New York following a cell phone ban. And the rate decrease was more substantive in urban areas than rural.
Even as the science evolves, cell phone use while driving is an emerging policy concern with a unique challenge: Protect other drivers and pedestrians, but don’t be draconian.
By holding a forum, the town is starting the process of addressing this important public safety issue.
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