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June 2012
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IRRESPONSIBLE Kentucky should crack down on drivers using cellphones

It is not often that we find ourselves advocating government regulation of matters of personal responsibility. Or for that matter, find ourselves agreeing with the more liberal of Chicago's two newspapers, the Sun-Times.

But we think the Sun-Times makes a valid point in an editorial republished in this newspaper last Saturday. The Sun-Times, commenting on Illinois' new law requiring drivers to use hands-free devices to talk on cellphones, said the only real way to stop the carnage wreaked by drivers using cellphones is an outright ban.

That's true. It wouldn't surprise us to see it come to pass - nationally. And frankly, that wouldn't bother us.

Illinois passed its hands-free requirement, which took effect Jan. 1, amid polls showing 85 percent of registered voters in the state favored the restriction. Its legislators also added a second, less-publicized provision that authorizes prison sentences for people who injure or kill other people while using cellphones without a hands-free device.

As the Sun-Times points out, the evidence in support of a ban is overwhelming. A 2011 National Transportation Safety Board recommendation that all states implement outright bans is based on data showing cellphone use while driving quadruples the chance of getting into an accident - in other words, about the same level of accident risk as that posed by drunk drivers.

Of course the nation long ago cracked down on drunk driving after generations of winking it off as just another form of traffic violation. As technology advanced and the public became better informed, the carnage being inflicted by drunk drivers became too great to ignore and states appropriately took action.

The same sort of acknowledgment of the dangers of driving while blabbing on a cellphone seems now to be slowly taking hold. There is evidence that hands-free laws such as the one now effective in Illinois are important steps. California saw a 22 percent drop in traffic deaths when it adopted a hands-free rule five years ago. But that's sort of like getting just the drunkest of the drunk off the roads. It improves the situation, but doesn't solve the problem.

In addition to the accident risk, there's the road rage factor. How many times have we all seen it - a driver with a cellphone stuck in their ear clogging the left lane, oblivious that they are driving 10 miles per hour under the limit and that a scowling man in a full-size pickup is two inches from their bumper because he's late for work and can't get around the rolling roadblock?

It's dangerous and it's rude. And if you don't like violence you just hope the two don't get stuck at a stoplight where the aggrieved driver can get out and let the person in front of him know how he really feels about it.

Kentucky is, as usual, behind the curve on this one. It did finally ban texting while driving, well after Illinois and numerous other states had done so. We think Kentucky would do well to follow Illinois' lead and adopt at minimum a hands-free requirement. Yes, it would cost people money. But it would save lives. We think it's worth it and we suspect most voters would agree.

And should the state choose to go farther and ban cellphones from the road entirely we, just this once, would find ourselves on the side of the regulators.

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