That awkward moment when you realize the guy on his cell next to you just broke up with his girlfriend or you try to pretend you didn’t just hear someone describe the in-office mole removal procedure they just had done…those are the moments that make us appreciate cell phone courtesy.
But cell phone courtesy doesn’t just apply when there are other people within earshot. It pertains to any cell phone use that has the potential to affect others. In other words, cell phone courtesy applies to how you use your cell phone in your car because in-car phone use affects the way you drive, and the way you drive affects road safety.
When it comes to cell phone use in your car, there’s no greater courtesy to yourself and other drivers than to put your cell phone away.
Cities and entire states across the nation are making cell phone courtesy the law by passing legislation that restricts cell phone use while driving. Although New Mexico has not yet passed statewide legislation, the largest cities in the state—Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Santa Fe, Gallup, Taos and Espanola—have all passed hands-free ordinances.
In Albuquerque, drivers may only use their cell phones if they do not have to use their hands to hold the phone or dial. Drivers may talk using hands-free sets, which include wireless earpieces (i.e. Bluetooth) and corded headsets. However, texting (unless done by voice command) is illegal.
Drivers using their hands to operate a cell phone may be cited. The first offense calls for a $100 fine, and all subsequent citations come with a $200 fine.
Hands-Free Isn’t Enough
While legislation restricts cell phone use in an effort to improve driving and road safety, hands-free may not be enough. A recent study conducted by AAA and the University of Utah found that voice-activated technology does not reduce driver distraction. In fact, voice-activated features may be more cognitively distracting than manual phone interactions.
Drivers trying to concentrate on listening to emails were among the most distracted in the study. (As a baseline, the most distracted drivers were those trying to remember a word while simultaneously solving math problems while driving. Thankfully, no one’s ever really doing this on the road…at least we hope not.) According to Peter Kissinger of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “test drivers experienced ‘a type of tunnel vision or inattention blindness where motorists don’t see potential hazards right in front of them.’” 
Make the Pledge
When you’re concentration is somewhere else, having your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road isn’t enough to be a safe driver. So, while hands-free cell phone use is a good start, drivers can do better. You can make the pledge to drive cell phone-free. By putting your phone on silent and out of sight, out of mind, you remove a huge distraction while you drive. By driving cell phone distraction-free, you show courtesy to every other driver and passenger on the road because your choice helps you improve safety on shared roads.
During Cell Phone Courtesy Month, start making cell phone-free driving a habit as automatic as putting on your seatbelt before you put the key in the ignition (because you’re putting on your seatbelt before putting the key in the ignition, right?)
Drive safely and distraction-free, ABQ!