Wisconsin lawmakers urging ban on all handheld cell phones while driving

Wisconsin's legislators are seeking a ban on any handheld cell phone use behind the wheel.

Some Wisconsin legislators are gearing up to again introduce legislation that would ban the use of handheld cell phones behind the wheel for all drivers in the state. Existing laws already ban texting while driving and prohibit novice drivers (those with probationary licenses or instruction permits) from using cell phones behind the wheel except to report an emergency, but the new law would go even further. The proposal seeks to slow the tide of distracted driving-related car accidents plaguing the state's roadways by prohibiting all drivers - regardless of age or experience level - from using handheld phones while driving.

The science behind distracted driving

While the intent of passing such a law may be good, and it, on paper at least, makes sense to ban handheld cell phones behind the wheel (you'd think that keeping your hands on the wheel would lead to better driving behaviors), given what we now understand about the science behind driver distraction, the effort might be in vain. There are actually three different levels of distraction inherent in, for example, texting or using a handheld cell phone behind the wheel:

  • Manual - taking your hands off the wheel in order to dial a phone number, answer the phone, pick up the phone from its resting place or retrieve it from a purse, briefcase or backpack
  • Visual - taking your eyes off the road to see the phone's power or unlock button, look at the screen, type in a message and read incoming messages
  • Cognitive - taking your mind off your driving duties in order to focus on drafting a message or formulating a response as part of a conversation

While it is true that preventing handheld cell phone use could indeed lower the levels of manual and visual distraction drivers are subjected to, it unfortunately does nothing to prevent cognitive distraction. Cognitive distraction might actually be the most pervasive of all three levels, due in no small part to the fact that we are mostly unaware of its influence.

Recent studies have shown that, when we are distracted by conversation, we can actually become largely unaware of our surroundings, a phenomenon scientists refer to as "inattention blindness." Essentially, we are missing things that are right in front of us because our brains are so busy processing the back and forth of the conversation we are engaged in.

Perhaps a better legislative solution would be to ban all cellphone use - both handheld and hands-free - behind the wheel. This step may seem drastic, but it could potentially go a long way towards curbing the epidemic of distracted driving-related accidents on the state's roads. If you or someone you love has been injured by a Wisconsin distracted driver, you may be able to bring legal action to hold them accountable for their negligence. For more information, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Harper and Peterson, P.L.L.C. Call them in the Woodbury area at 651-738-8539 or toll free at 800-779-1466 or send an email.