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PD Editorial: It's time for drivers to hang up the phone

  • This artwork by Jennifer Kohnke relates to a proposal to ban use of some electronic devices while driving.

State officials periodically ask California drivers to name their biggest traffic safety concern. In the latest survey, a new No. 1 answer emerged: drivers using cellphones.

Perhaps they were referring to all those <i>other</i> drivers talking on the phone — because it's been 3? years since California restricted drivers to hands-free devices, and spotting someone clinging to a cellphone in traffic is still as common as the potholes on local streets.

If you're one of those who doesn't think it's risky, consider these numbers:

• Cellphone use was listed as a factor in 995 traffic fatalities in the United States in 2009. That's about one in five deaths attributed to distracted driving.

• A National Safety Council report published last year blamed 28 percent of all crashes on cellphone use.

Those figures help explain the "no call, no text, no update" recommendation issued last week by the National Transportation Safety Board. The board unanimously urged states to prohibit drivers from using cellphones and other personal electronic devices, including hands-free phones and bluetooth headsets.

Cellphones and other electronic gadgets have changed the way people work, play and communicate. But no call, no text and certainly no game is worth someone's life.

"Lives are being lost in the blink of an eye," NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman told the New York Times. "You can't take it back, you can't have a do over, and you can't rewind."

Studies have shown that talking on a cellphone is more distracting than listening to music or talking with a passenger and that a driver is 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or a close call while texting. Beyond the research, there are the stories of lives needlessly lost.

In Sonoma County, we mourned for 2-year-old Calli Murray, who was crossing a Rohnert Park street with her mother when she was killed by a driver sending a text message.

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