The Comparison between Drinking and Driving and Cell Phone Use while Driving

April 26, 2012 by Gregory J. Brod

smart_phone_icon.jpg U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is calling out for a federal law against talking or texting on a cell phone while driving, MSNBC reports. Currently 37 states have laws on the books that specifically prohibit texting while driving, while 10 prohibit talking on a handheld cell phone while driving. LaHood added that the Department of Transportation is currently researching whether hands free devices actually make driving safer.

Lately, the statistic that has been trotted out again and again that using a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving while drunk. For instance, the website Distraction.gov by the U.S. Department of Transportation cites a University of Utah study and states, “Using a cell phone while driving - whether it's hand-held or hands-free delays a driver's reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent.” From government departments to the Discovery Channel’s the Mythbusters, many are making the comparison.

Drunk driving is firmly embedded in American drivers’ minds as unacceptable behavior, although 1.44 million DUI and DWI arrests were made nationally in 2009. Likewise, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration recently conducted some driver surveys which show a contradiction between belief and behavior regarding cell phone use and driving. According to their research, 90% of respondents said it makes them feel they are in peril as a passenger when the driver is using a cell phone. Yet, most admit to receiving calls while driving. The NHTSA survey also reports that drivers 25 years and younger are two to three times more likely to text and drive than older drivers.

Until the the education effort to make cell phone use and driving as unacceptable as drunk driving, the numbers of drivers who text or talk by phone will increase as more Americans who grew up with smart phones start driving. A 2009 study by the Allstate Foundation reported that 49% of teens admitted to cell phone use while driving (the number was 57% in a State Farm study), while 23% admitted to drinking and driving. It may be inferred that the education effort still has a long way to go.

LaHood also used the comparison, saying the drunk drivers used to get cabs from police officers but now they get jail time. He believes that enforcement should also be much stricter when it comes to cell phone use, according to the Chicago Tribune. The many comparisons beg the question, how far will the responsibility for texting and driving and other cell phone use go? In California, under Section 53150 of the Government Code, a drunk driver may be liable for the costs associated with sending emergency responders to the site of an incident caused by his actions. Furthermore, debtors in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court may not discharge personal injury judgments that were a result of drunk driving (11 USC Section 523(9)). Interested parties may want to watch for future developments in this area of the law to see how close the comparison between driving under the influence and cell phone use while driving converges, not only on statistics but enforcement and punishment as well.

Greg Brod is an experienced personal injury attorney practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area. At Brod Law Firm, every client receives the specialized legal services their case requires. Please call today for a free consultation.