Ban cell phone use by drivers

The ability to rationalize is one thing that distinguishes humans from other beings.

This allows us to do any number of things that seem mutually exclusive, such as eating an extra dessert while ostensibly dieting, watching trash TV while pledging to read more books, splurging on luxury items while wanting to save money, etc., etc. ad nauseum.

We rationalize that it's just this once, everyone does it and it's different when we do it. We'll start that idealized behavior tomorrow.

In these examples most of the harm falls on the rationalizer. Our behavior makes us fatter, dumber, poorer.

Not so for texting, talking or surfing the Internet on a cell phone while driving. Rationalize as we might, they can do serious harm to others, as well as ourselves.

Kentucky should heed the recommendation issued Tuesday by the National Traffic Safety Transportation Board that all 50 states ban use of cell phones while driving and enact strict penalties.

Currently in Kentucky, drivers older than 18 face a $25 fine — $50 for additional offenses — if they are caught texting while driving, and those under 18 face similar fines for using cell phones.

It's a start but it's a law that doesn't apply to enough drivers, is tough to enforce and carries fines that are considerably less than a monthly cell phone bill for most users.

We've got to do better. Here's why:

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that dialing a phone while driving makes a crash or near-crash almost three times more likely. Texting, it said, "has the potential to create a true crash epidemic,"

Car and Driver Magazine recently did its own somewhat less scientific study of the effects of both alchohol and cell phone use on drivers to see how long it took to brake at 70 miles an hour.

Being legally drunk added 4 feet to the distance it took to stop, reading an e-mail added 36 feet and sending a text added 70 feet.

Passing laws banning cell phone use won't stop it. But strict laws, combined with serious enforcement and education efforts, will reduce cell phone use while driving, just as that approach has made driving while intoxicated a much less common or acceptable practice.

NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman, well known to Kentuckians as the lead investigator and primary spokesperson for the agency during the 2006 investigation of the crash of Flight 5191 in Lexington, pointed out the number of cell phones in the United States exceeds the number of people.

We're addicted to being constantly connected.

But Hersman, in remarks on Tuesday, said we need to stop and consider the costs of this perpetual connectedness.

"The needless lives that are lost. And, for what, convenience? For staying connected? A fatal crash severs that connection in the blink of an eye. What call, text, or update will be your last?"

That's a tough question to rationalize away.