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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 10, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Cell phone use while driving needs attention

Colorado took a step that this state should seriously consider when it banned young drivers from using cell phones while behind the wheel.

It is an issue that resonates in Morgan County. On Aug. 5, Justin Matthew Baker, 16, had an accident in Priceville when, according to his passenger, he tried to answer the cell phone while driving. Thanks to the heroism of the passenger, 15-year-old Blaine Clark, Baker survived.

The cell-phone industry's complaints about the Colorado legislation were predictable.

One industry spokesman said cellular companies don't oppose restrictions on cell-phone use, provided the same limitations extend to those who eat hamburgers or put on makeup while driving.

That makes an interesting talking point, but it is an analogy that cell-phone users — and all drivers who have to steer around them — know is defective. Using a cell phone engages both the hand and the mind, as does driving. Something has to give, and unfortunately that often means an accident.

A U.S. study concluded accidents are four times as likely when one of the drivers is using a cell phone. A study in England arrived at the same conclusion.

The Colorado law, applying only to young drivers whose license is conditioned on an adult being in the car, is so limited it is unlikely to have significant results. It is a start, though, in a battle with the wireless industry that will be fierce.

Another baby step toward more significant restrictions would also make sense. Tennessee, Florida and four other states require that law enforcement report cell-phone usage in accidents. This step will at least help lawmakers understand the stakes.

Cell phones are a tremendous convenience and allow efficient use of time as commuters idle in increasingly congested traffic. Efficiency is great, but it is time we know its cost.

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