EDITORIAL: Hang up and drive may become more than a suggestion


It’s a common sight driving around town and out on the highways: People talking on cell phones while operating a motor vehicle.

Drivers who do it are easy enough to spot: Lane changes without signaling, erratic speeds, not paying attention to pedestrians or cyclists on the road or in crosswalks.

Sadly, most of us are guilty of it, as our need to multi-task and utilize convenient technology begins to trump safety, for ourselves and those around us. It’s a bad habit, one, that like most bad habits, can be tough to break.

But there soon may be an incentive to change, at least within the Powell city limits.

A recent meeting of the Powell City Council was highlighted by the first reading of a new city ordinance that would ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, except in cases of emergency. Hands-free devices would be the exception to the ordinance, as is standard in many communities across the nation that have adopted similar ordinances.

The proposed ordinance was the result of Councilman Scott Mangold nearly being run over in the downtown area by an inattentive driver talking on a cell phone. The approval on its first reading last month opens the door for two more readings on Monday and Nov. 20. If it passes both times, it will go into law shortly after. Public input in this manner is important and encouraged.

A recent article in the Tribune outlining the ordinance brought out residents on both sides of the issue, who took to social media to express their opinions and concerns. Those against it see it as another government intrusion on basic rights, while those who agree with the proposed ban cite safety as their primary reason for doing so. Each argument is valid.

But the statistics are hard to ignore.

Distracted driving was responsible for 3,477 deaths and 391,000 injuries in 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. To be fair, the definition of distracted driving by the NHTSA is broad: Any activity that diverts attention from driving falls into that category, including talking or texting, eating and drinking, talking to passengers and changing the station on the stereo.

That said, it’s estimated by the NHTSA that during daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers are using their cell phones while driving. Teens “were the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes.” The jump from the number of people talking on their cell phones to the number of injuries caused by distracted driving is not a difficult one to make.

Texting and driving is the low-hanging fruit of the argument, as 47 states (including Wyoming) currently ban texting for all drivers, and rightfully so. All but four of those states utilize “primary enforcement,” for texting and driving, meaning an officer can cite a driver for texting without any other traffic offense taking place. Should the proposed ordinance go into effect in Powell, Police Chief Roy Eckerdt said officer discretion would be a factor. Everything the police department does is based on “the totality of the circumstances.”

The slope for banning cell phone use while driving is a bit more slippery, but one that should be considered. It’s virtually impossible to remove all distractions when operating a moving vehicle. But cell phone use has proven to be an obvious risk, and a distraction that can be easily removed. Other Wyoming cities have such bans in place.

We have enough to worry about and pay attention to when driving around on our city streets.