Regulate Use of Cell Phones on the Road

MLA Research Paper (Daly)

Source: Diana Hacker (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006).

Angela Daly

Professor Chavez

English 101

14 March XXXX

A Call to Action:

Regulate Use of Cell Phones on the Road

When a cell phone goes off in a classroom or at a concert, we

are irritated, but at least our lives are not endangered. When we

are on the road, however, irresponsible cell phone users are more

than irritating: They are putting our lives at risk. Many of us have

witnessed drivers so distracted by dialing and chatting that they

resemble drunk drivers, weaving between lanes, for example, or

nearly running down pedestrians in crosswalks. A number of bills to

regulate use of cell phones on the road have been introduced in

state legislatures, and the time has come to push for their passage.

Regulation is needed because drivers using phones are seriously

impaired and because laws on negligent and reckless driving are

not sufficient to punish offenders.

No one can deny that cell phones have caused traffic deaths

and injuries. Cell phones were implicated in three fatal accidents in

November 1999 alone. Early in November, two-year-old Morgan

Pena was killed by a driver distracted by his cell phone. Morgan’s

mother, Patti Pena, reports that the driver “ran a stop sign at 45

mph, broadsided my vehicle and killed Morgan as she sat in her car

seat.” A week later, corrections officer Shannon Smith, who was

guarding prisoners by the side of the road, was killed by a woman

distracted by a phone call (Besthoff). On Thanksgiving weekend

that same month, John and Carole Hall were killed when a Naval

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Source: Diana Hacker (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006).

Academy midshipman crashed into their parked car. The driver said

in court that when he looked up from the cell phone he was dial-

ing, he was three feet from the car and had no time to stop

(Stockwell B8).

Expert testimony, public opinion, and even cartoons sug-

gest that driving while phoning is dangerous. Frances Bents, an

expert on the relation between cell phones and accidents, esti-

mates that between 450 and 1,000 crashes a year have some

connection to cell phone use (Layton C9). In a survey published

by Farmers Insurance Group, 87% of those polled said that cell

phones affect a driver’s ability, and 40% reported having close

calls with drivers distracted by phones. Many cartoons have

depicted the very real dangers of driving while distracted (see

Fig. 1).

Scientific research confirms the dangers of using phones

while on the road. In 1997 an important study appeared in the

New England Journal of Medicine. The authors, Donald Redelmeier

and Robert Tibshirani, studied 699 volunteers who made their cell

phone bills available in order to confirm the times when they

had placed calls. The participants agreed to report any nonfatal

collision in which they were involved. By comparing the time of

a collision with the phone records, the researchers assessed the

dangers of driving while phoning. The results are unsettling:

We found that using a cellular telephone was associ-

ated with a risk of having a motor vehicle collision

that was about four times as high as that

among the same drivers when they were not using

their cellular telephones. This relative risk is similar

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Source: Diana Hacker (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006).

to the hazard associated with driving with a blood

alcohol level at the legal limit. (456)

The news media often exaggerated the latter claim (“similar

to” is not “equal to”); nonetheless, the comparison with drunk

driving suggests the extent to which cell phone use while driving

can impair judgment.

A 1998 study focused on Oklahoma, one of the few states to

keep records on fatal accidents involving cell phones. Using police

records, John M. Violanti of the Rochester Institute of Technology

investigated the relation between traffic fatalities in Oklahoma and

the use or presence of a cell phone. He found a ninefold increase

in the risk of fatality if a phone was being used and a doubled risk

simply when a phone was present in a vehicle (522-23). The latter

statistic is interesting, for it suggests that those who carry phones

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Fig. 1. Chan Lowe, cartoon, Washington Post 22 July 2000: A21. Illustration has figure number, label, and source information.

Summary begins with a signal phrase naming the author and ends with page numbers in parentheses.

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Source: Diana Hacker (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006).

in their cars may tend to be more negligent (or prone to distrac-

tions of all kinds) than those who do not.

Some groups have argued that state traffic laws make

legislation regulating cell phone use unnecessary. Sadly, this is not

true. Laws on traffic safety vary from state to state, and drivers

distracted by cell phones can get off with light punishment even

when they cause fatal accidents. For example, although the mid-

shipman mentioned earlier was charged with vehicular manslaugh-

ter for the deaths of John and Carole Hall, the judge was unable to

issue a verdict of guilty. Under Maryland law, he could only find

the defendant guilty of negligent driving and impose a $500 fine

(Layton C1). Such a light sentence is not unusual. The driver who

killed Morgan Pena in Pennsylvania received two tickets and a $50

fine–and retained his driving privileges (Pena). In Georgia, a

young woman distracted by her phone ran down and killed a two-

year-old; her sentence was ninety days in boot camp and five hun-

dred hours of community service (Ippolito J1). The families of the

victims are understandably distressed by laws that lead to such

light sentences.

When certain kinds of driver behavior are shown to be espe-

cially dangerous, we wisely draft special laws making them illegal

and imposing specific punishments. Running red lights, failing to

stop for a school bus, and drunk driving are obvious examples;

phoning in a moving vehicle should be no exception. Unlike more

general laws covering negligent driving, specific laws leave little

ambiguity for law officers and for judges and juries imposing pun-

ishments. Such laws have another important benefit: They leave no

ambiguity for drivers. Currently, drivers can tease themselves into

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Daly counters an opposing argument.

Facts are docu- mented with in- text citations: authors’ names and page numbers (if available) in parentheses.

Daly uses an analogy to justify passing a special law.

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Source: Diana Hacker (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006).

thinking they are using their car phones responsibly because the

definition of “negligent driving” is vague.

As of December 2000, twenty countries were restricting

use of cell phones in moving vehicles (Sundeen 8). In the United

States, it is highly unlikely that legislation could be passed on

the national level, since traffic safety is considered a state and

local issue. To date, only a few counties and towns have passed

traffic laws restricting cell phone use. For example, in Suffolk

County, New York, it is illegal for drivers to use a handheld phone

for anything but an emergency call while on the road (Haughney

A8). The first town to restrict use of handheld phones was Brook-

lyn, Ohio (Layton C9). Brooklyn, the first community in the

country to pass a seat belt law, has once again shown its concern

for traffic safety.

Laws passed by counties and towns have had some effect,

but it makes more sense to legislate at the state level. Local laws

are not likely to have the impact of state laws, and keeping track

of a wide variety of local ordinances is confusing for drivers. Even

a spokesperson for Verizon Wireless has said that statewide bans

are preferable to a “crazy patchwork quilt of ordinances” (qtd. in

Haughney A8). Unfortunately, although a number of bills have

been introduced in state legislatures, as of early 2001 no state law

seriously restricting use of the phones had passed–largely because

of effective lobbying from the wireless industry.

Despite the claims of some lobbyists, tough laws regulating

phone use can make our roads safer. In Japan, for example, acci-

dents linked to cell phones fell by 75% just a month after the

country prohibited using a handheld phone while driving (Haugh-

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Daly explains why US laws need to be passed on the state level.

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Source: Diana Hacker (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006).

ney A8). Research suggests and common sense tells us that it is

not possible to drive an automobile at high speeds, dial numbers,

and carry on conversations without significant risks. When such

behavior is regulated, obviously our roads will be safer.

Because of mounting public awareness of the dangers of driv-

ers distracted by phones, state legislators must begin to take the

problem seriously. “It’s definitely an issue that is gaining steam

around the country,” says Matt Sundeen of the National Conference

of State Legislatures (qtd. in Layton C9). Lon Anderson of the

American Automobile Association agrees: “There is momentum

building,” he says, to pass laws (qtd. in Layton C9). The time has

come for states to adopt legislation restricting the use of cell

phones in moving vehicles.

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Source: Diana Hacker (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006).

Works Cited

Besthoff, Len. “Cell Phone Use Increases Risk of Accidents, but

Users Willing to Take the Risk.” WRAL Online. 11 Nov. 1999.

12 Jan. 2001 <


Farmers Insurance Group. “New Survey Shows Drivers Have Had

‘Close Calls’ with Cell Phone Users.” Farmers Insurance

Group. 8 May 2000. 12 Jan. 2001 <http://>.

Haughney, Christine. “Taking Phones out of Drivers’ Hands.” Wash-

ington Post 5 Nov. 2000: A8.

Ippolito, Milo. “Driver’s Sentence Not Justice, Mom Says.” Atlanta

Journal-Constitution 25 Sept. 1999: J1.

Layton, Lyndsey. “Legislators Aiming to Disconnect Motorists.”

Washington Post 10 Dec. 2000: C1+.

Lowe, Chan. Cartoon. Washington Post 22 July 2000: A21.

Pena, Patricia N. “Patti Pena’s Letter to Car Talk.”

Car Talk. 10 Jan. 2001 <


Redelmeier, Donald A., and Robert J. Tibshirani. “Association be-

tween Cellular-Telephone Calls and Motor Vehicle Collisions.”

New England Journal of Medicine 336 (1997): 453-58.

Stockwell, Jamie. “Phone Use Faulted in Collision.” Washington

Post 6 Dec. 2000: B1+.

Sundeen, Matt. “Cell Phones and Highway Safety: 2000 State Leg-

islative Update.” National Conference of State Legislatures.

Dec. 2000. 9 pp. 27 Feb. 2001 <


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Heading is centered.

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First line of each entry is at the left margin; extra lines are indented 1⁄2” (or five spaces).

Double-spacing is used throughout.

The URL is broken after a slash. No hyphen is inserted.

Sample MLA Formatted Paper

Source: Diana Hacker (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006).

Violanti, John M. “Cellular Phones and Fatal Traffic Collisions.”

Accident Analysis and Prevention 30 (1998): 519-24.

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