All hail our robotic car overlords!

We all remember the dumb things we did behind the wheels as teens. And parents can regale any cocktail party with stories of what their teenagers are doing behind the wheel today.

So, I doubt there will be much opposition to Senate Bill 756, Sen. Howard Walker's bid to change the traffic code to bar teenagers (or holders of class 1 and 2 licenses) from using cell phones in their vehicles, except in emergency situations. Distracted driving is bad; phone conversations are distracting, so let's take action right?

Well, take a look at another exception in the current version of the bill: "The prohibition also would not apply to a person using a voice-operated system integrated into the vehicle."

I presume this means Sync and the other hands-free systems that are now becoming common in automobiles.

However, as this slate.com review points out, being hands-free does not make a driver any less dangerous. In fact, phone conversations, even in hands-free mode, are the equivalent of drunken driving. And this applies whether you are a 16-year-old cheerleader or 55-year-old state legislator.

The research to date shows that talking on a phone in a car is a particularly dangerous thing to do. And, no, it is not the equivalent of chatting with a person in the passenger seat.

Any serious bid to address road safety would treat the use of cell phones, in any fashion, as a threat. And if cell phone use is not particularly distracting, where is the research to show that result? There are plenty of interested parties who could fund research. Is it just possible that those results haven't surfaced because cell phones aren't just like every other distraction?

I understand that millions of my fellow Michiganians simply cannot be out of touch for even a nanosecond, so a complete ban on phone use is a practical impossibility at the moment.

So, the only thing that may save us from ourselves are robot cars.

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Thomas W. Donnelly
Thu, 03/08/2012 - 11:47am
As a former driving instructor for 25 years, I saw first-hand how teens think behind the wheel.Any distraction for them was potentially catastrophic. Manipulating a cell phone or (God forbid!) texting while driving brings too much input for the novice driver to process in time to react properly. Adults are no better. Why not require all drivers to shut their phones OFF while driving? If one needs to make a call, pull off the road, and have the conversation.Then get back into traffic. Driving drunk, tired driving, distracted driving, driving while ill, driving while upset, driving under the influence of prescribed medications that cause drowsiness- these are all causes that fill up the hospitals and the graveyards. I shut my phone off while driving and maybe I increase my chances of avoiding a collision.