Kansas town considers landmark ban on all cell phone use while driving

| 6/2/2006

While the state may not be known for its progressivism, one community in Kansas has proposed an ordinance that would put them ahead of the nation when it comes to restrictions on cell phone use while driving.

The Traffic Safety Commission for the city of Lawrence, KS, will vote Monday, June 5, on a proposal that would ban the use of both hand-held and hands-free cell phones, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.

New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Washington, DC, all restrict the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, and other states and communities across the nation have placed restrictions on drivers under the age of 18.

But Lawrence would be the first location to also make it against the law for drivers of all ages to use either a hand-held or hands-free headset or speakerphone system.

The decision is being based on a number of studies that have found hands-free devices to be no safer than holding the phone to your ear while driving. Some of that research was actually conducted at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

Paul Atchley, an associate professor of psychology at Kansas University, told “Land Line Now” that his research – which is based solely on hands-free phone conversations – found dramatic differences in driver attentiveness depending on the type of conversation.

“What we’re finding now is that emotional conversations are very limiting for attention, especially negative emotion conversations,” Atchley said. “We get really powerful effects when people are listening to … words that have negative connotations.”

Opponents of the ban, however, say the research is inconclusive, and that the city does not have the resources or police manpower to enforce such a wide-reaching ban.

If approved at the Monday meeting, traffic commissioners for the city would still have to consent before the policy could be enacted.

Although Lawrence’s ban is rare, it certainly isn’t an unpopular idea, according to a new study conducted at the University of Michigan. Of more than 800 persons surveyed, about two-thirds said they thought states should pass laws prohibiting cell phone use while driving, and a whopping 88 percent said law enforcement officers should note when a cell phone was in use on all accident reports. The study did not ask respondents specifically about hands-free devices.

– By Aaron Ladage, staff writer