By Jake Tapper and Jody Hassett
July 5, 2004 â€” This week, just in time for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., joined the growing list of states and cities banning the use of handheld cell phones by drivers.
An oft-cited New England Journal of Medicine study in 1997 found that the use of cell phones in motor vehicles “is associated with a quadrupling of the risk of a collision during the brief period of a call.”
It is the fear of those drivers that got constituents complaining to New Jersey Assemblyman Douglas Fisher, one of the authors of the new state ban.
“Every week I was encountered with people coming to me, talking about how they were almost involved in an accident and that something needed to be done,” Fisher told ABC News.
But traffic safety experts say handheld cell phone bans may make the roads more dangerous because hands-free cell phones are still permitted. The distraction, they say, is the conversation, not holding the phone.
“Handheld cell phone bans actually make the situation worse,” said Barbara Harsha of the Governors Highway Safety Association. “People are going to think that they’re safer than they are. They’re going to engage in more conversations and perhaps get in more crashes.”
Will Streets Be Safer?
But in the District of Columbia, City Councilman Harold Brazil insists his law will make the streets safer.
“The New England Journal of Medicine found that the increased risk of accident and injury while driving and using a cell phone is roughly similar to the increased risk of driving while drunk,” Brazil said.
The same study also found that hands-free cell phones “offered no safety advantage over handheld units.” Despite that finding, the D.C. ban actively encourages drivers to seek hands-free technology. First-time violators can get out of the ticket by buying hands-free cell phone technology and sending the receipt in to the authorities.