Several years ago a good Samaritan driver stopped his car on a parkway in St. John’s, put on his emergency flashers, and offered to assist the driver of another vehicle whose car appeared to be immobilized on the shoulder of the road. Another vehicle smashed into the rear of our client’s car, driving it into the other parked car, and crushing the knees of our client who was standing between the two vehicles.
Production of the negligent driver’s cell phone records revealed that he was speaking on his cell phone at the time of the collision.
Newfoundland and Labrador was a relative pioneer in banning cell phone use while operating motor vehicles, but we all notice drivers who continue to violate this ban, absorbed in conversations and whether weighty or trivial as they wait at stop lights or negotiate challenging traffic, cell phones stuck firmly to their ears.
The issue is distraction and focus of attention. The larger question is whether not just cell phone use, but any telephonic communications device, including hands-free ones, should be permitted during the operation of a motor vehicle. All of these devices distract drivers and take attention away from the task at hand – safe driving. Other issues concern enforcement and whether the penalties for this potentially dangerous conduct by drivers can only be fully deterred by harsh penalties.
The United States is waking up to the issue of cell phone use while driving and six states have now banned the practice. Some commentators have called for offences which carry jail time of up to 90 days, on the theory that if the consequences are more severe there is a greater chance that drivers will be deterred from talking on cell phones while driving. The consequences for car accident victims, after all, can be severe – they certainly were for our young client whose ability to walk, let alone run, has been permanently impaired.