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Texting while driving and any use of a cell phone, unless hands free, is restricted aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico. However, as of July 1, 2013, a new Virginia law will make texting while driving a primary offense, allowing police officers to ticket drivers without any other traffic violation.

Photo by Ameesha Felton

Handsfree cell phone use while driving as dangerous as holding phone

12 Dec 2014 | Eve A. Baker Marine Corps Base Quantico

Devices that enable handsfree cell phone use while driving, such as Bluetooth or vehicle-integrated systems, are widely touted as reducing the risk of crashes and near-misses. However, a recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that such devices frequently do require some type of visual or manual interaction, or hands-on time, such as browsing to find a phone number, pushing a button to start or end a call, and texting. It is that interaction, whether talking on a phone handsfree or handheld, while driving that greatly increases the risk of an accident.

The NHTSA closely studied the driving behaviors and performance of 204 participants for approximately 31 days each. Behavior and driving data were recorded through in-vehicle video cameras, GPS systems and other devices, and phone records were analyzed to verify the number and duration of phone calls and texts. According to the findings of the study, the performance of visual/manual tasks while driving significantly “degraded driver performance and increased [incident] risk.”

Further, the NHTSA study reported, “Drivers can, and frequently do, initiate handsfree calls, text/browse during handsfree calls, and end handsfree calls with a handheld cell phone. Handsfree interfaces also require that drivers enable a Bluetooth connection, pair their cell phone and manually dial if their voice commands are not recognized. Such VM handheld cell phone subtasks detract from the goal of true handsfree cell phone use.”

According to Gunnery Sgt. Mark Vesely of the Marine Corps Base Quantico Provost Marshal’s Office, 89 citations were issued for cell phone use while driving in 2013 aboard the base, and 31 citations have been issued to date in 2014. The decrease is likely due to increased enforcement and education efforts. The punishment for using a handheld cell phone or texting while driving can be up to a 30-day suspension of base driving privileges, which would be added to the consequences for any additional charges as a result of damage or injury caused by a collision.

MCBQ Traffic Safety Branch conducts monthly seat belt and cell phone surveys of base drivers through visual inspection from the roadside, said Traffic Safety Manager Ed Billig, and there are approximately one to three drivers caught using handheld phones every month.

Billig estimated that despite the low observed numbers of drivers being caught with phones in hand, the actual count is likely much higher. The survey only observes 200 vehicles at one point on base each month, though thousands of vehicles operate aboard the installation on an average day, and if the driver is holding the phone down in his/her lap, it will not be seen and counted by the observer.

Drivers are reminded that a handsfree device is required to use a cell phone when driving aboard the base and that texting while driving is prohibited both on base and in the state of Virginia.

Marine Corps Base Quantico