States target distracted drivers

ByABC News
March 29, 2009, 10:59 PM

— -- Steven Blanchard, an emergency room doctor in Arkansas, testified last month in favor of a bill that bans all texting while driving in that state.

He had a very personal reason to do so: His 27-year-old son killed himself last fall, a couple of months after crashing his car into one being driven by a father of three, killing him.

Arkansas state Rep. Ray Kidd, a Democrat, has strong support for the bill banning texting, which was drafted by the college-student daughter of the man killed, Paul Davidson. Hilary Davidson originally proposed that all behind-the-wheel cellphone usage be banned in Arkansas, but Kidd convinced her he couldn't get the support for a more sweeping measure.

Highway safety experts can't seem to agree on whether hands-free cellphones are enough of a distraction to merit bans, despite a push that started in January by the National Safety Council. Many question the value of cellphone laws at all.

Jim Vondale, Ford's safety vice president, says his company's research has shown that when drivers were asked to perform several driving tasks, such as changing the radio, there was no difference in the ability to do the tasks while using the hands-free system compared with not talking at all. The Sync study participants were asked to acknowledge a pedestrian when she appeared on the highway shoulder and their response time or lack of response was monitored. The company found Sync users responded more quickly to the pedestrian's presence than when they were using handheld devices.

"Let's focus on where the real risks are: handheld phones, younger drivers, texting, people driving school buses and people driving mass transit," Vondale says.