By John Darling
For the Tidings
There's a lot of support out there for the proposed law against driving while using a cell phone, even among people who dial and drive.
"Yes, I use my cell phone while driving," said Gloria Bloomberg of Eagle Point while she waited for gas this week at Costco. "I don't know, it's probably safer if we don't. It's tough to do them (drive and call) at the same time. I haven't had any accidents, but I know it's bad and you're not supposed to do it. We have grandchildren and when it rings, it might be important."
Dennis Perkins of Medford, who carries a cell phone but never uses it on the road, said "good deal!" about HB 3277, which has cleared the House Transportation Committee with Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, as a co-sponsor. At a town hall meeting in Medford last year, Esquivel called the practice "the equivalent of drunk driving."
People waiting for gas didn't go quite that far, but many observed the hazards of trying to do two things at the same time.
"There's too many people out there paying too little attention," Perkins said. "I've had close calls. A gal sideswiped me and had a cop right behind her watching it all and, as she pulled over, she still wouldn't get off the phone."
Using a cell phone properly on the road means you pull over, look who called and hit "redial" if you want to talk to them, said Perkins, one of many waiting in line to save a few cents on gas.
"A lot of people don't want to give them up, but they're going to get hit by a train or something," he said.
The measure would prohibit all use of hand-held cell phones while driving and impose a maximum $90 fine. California and Washington already ban such phone use.
Hands-free devices still could be used by drivers over 18, but drivers under 18 could not use phones of any kind.
Two years ago, Oregon banned all cell-phone use, including hands-free sets, by drivers under 18, but that law made driving while phoning a secondary offense, which meant the driver had to be cited for a more serious violation before a ticket for improper cell-phone use could be issued. The Associated Press has reported that only two tickets were issued for the offense in Portland and none by Oregon State Police.
Kelly Hokinson of Medford said she takes calls while driving, but doesn't make calls while driving — and she supports the proposed law.
An unabashed user of her cell phone while driving, Susie Willis of Medford, laughed and said, "I like to talk and get work done. There are a lot of people I have to call and talk to. If I'm in a lot of traffic or construction, I don't answer the phone. But if I'm just driving down the road and there's nothing going on, I can multi-task."
A number of studies challenge that assertion, and some indicate a hands-free device is no safer than a hand-held one. The Insurance Information Institute cites one study from researchers at the University of Utah, published in the summer 2006 issue of Human Factors, the quarterly journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, which concluded that talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk, even if the phone is a hands-free model.
The proposed law is a good one and would prevent distractions, said Shereen Ankrum of Medford. She said she uses speed dial to place calls and doesn't look numbers up or peck the numbers one-by-one.
"It's not really safe to use a cell phone while driving. A lot of people aren't paying attention," said Darnell Harris of Medford. He said if he has to call, he uses a Bluetooth and feels it's safe.
The insurance industry is welcoming the proposed law, said Farmers Insurance agent Paul Garcia, a driver's education teacher, because "it makes drivers more responsible and prevents accidents, and that keeps rates down. It's a major distraction."
He said it's common knowledge in the industry that "when you see a teen in an accident, a good 75 percent of them were on the phone and most likely texting."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Valley residents weigh in on proposed cell phone ban
By John Darling