New Technologies, New Problems, New Law: Cell Phones
New technologies generally solve problems, but often create new ones. Cell phones are a fantastic new technology, drawing together several technological threads into a quantum leap in convenience and functionality. And they are a blight, of course, requiring the creation of a new landscape of transmission towers, new ettiquette violations and protocols (how do you respond when a student's cell phone goes off in class? I've been going the 'let them be embarrased but don't add to it by reacting' route, myself), and new dangers.
Volokh conspirator Todd Zywicki has found a study which claims to have proven that cell phone users are more dangerous than drunk drivers. The abstract does not clarify the methodology sufficiently that I can be sure that they really controlled for other distracting factors: having a relationship argument, or a toddler, in the car, for example, or singing along with the radio/cd/mp3 player.
But the Japanese did not wait for peer review: new regulations now require fines of 5-7000 yen (that's about US$45-65) for driving while talking on a cell phone. The fines increase with the size of the vehicle: the 5000 yen fine is for using a cell phone while on a small motorcycle! (I suppose, with a properly designed helmet microphone, it could be done: anyone seen it?) I sympathize, but it does raise the question of our inanely low tolerance for certain kinds of risks.
(non-sequitur: I hate evil, too)
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Sharon Howard - 8/29/2004
Since 2003 we've had one of those laws too. However, ours specifically bans only *holding* a phone and using it when driving. (So there's been a flourishing market in hands-free kits for the last couple of years. And yes, I believe there are special headsets for motorcyclists.) There is a fixed penalty fine of £30 (but a lot more if you take it to court and lose). And the government's information warns drivers that they could still be prosecuted for careless driving if they cause an accident while using a hands-free phone. I think, all in all, that's a reasonable response to the risks of the technology. (I've been a passenger in a car driving around the usual narrow bendy roads in Wales, driver with one hand on the wheel and the other holding his mobile phone. That was bloody scary.)