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Tomorrow, the District of Columbia joins New York and several other jurisdictions in prohibiting the holding of a cell-phone to your ear while driving. Cell-phone use while driving is not prohibited; it’s just that drivers who use cell-phones must use them with hands-free devices.

This prohibition on holding a cell-phone to the ear while driving strikes me as ill-considered. Surely the single most dangerous thing anyone can do with a cell-phone is to dial a telephone number manually (or otherwise operate the phone’s keyboard) while driving. A hands-free device does nothing to increase the likelihood that drivers will avoid dialing numbers manually.

Once a call is connected, the driver holding the cell-phone to his ear is no more or less distracted by the conversation than he would be if he were holding the same conversation with a passenger in his automobile.

It’s true that having two hand on a steering wheel is safer than having only one hand on a steering wheel. But I suspect that this effect is quite small. Most people drive with only one hand at a time, cell-phone or not, and I’ve heard no calls to prevent one-armed people and those of us with an arm in a cast from driving.

In short, the requirement that drivers use cell-phones only with hands-free devices does nothing to prevent the single most dangerous activity that people do with cell-phones – namely, operate the keyboard manually.


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