Debate rages over proposed cell phone ban behind the wheel

Calling and talking on cell phones while driving is likely to continue, at least for now, in North Carolina.

But the debate still rages since the National Transportation Safety Board recently recommended a national ban on all cell phone use, even hands-free devices.

Donna McClure of Franklin is all for cell phone restrictions, describing distracted drivers on the road as “frightening.” She’s no hypocrite: McClure refuses to even own a cell phone, much less use one while motoring along highways and byways.

“I’m afraid it will ring when I’m driving, and that I’ll feel guilty for not answering it. So I avoid that,” said McClure, breaking away for a moment to chat from her volunteer job tending to sales at the Macon County Friends of the Library Bookstore. “If you don’t have a cell phone to answer, then you don’t feel guilty about not answering it. I prefer to communicate directly with another person.”

If you want to reach McClure, you’ll have to call her at home and leave a message on her answering machine.

But talking while driving has become an engrained behavior for most Americans. In the neighboring Mirror Dance Hair Studio, down a few doors from the Franklin bookstore, hairdresser Kristina Neighbarger is part of the fast moving high-tech world most Americans thrive on.

“I don’t text while driving, but I to drive and talk on my cell phone,” Neighbarger said. “I’d miss it, if it weren’t allowed.”

Neighbarger perhaps spoke for many when she noted that, truthfully, she wishes other drivers, however, were banned from using cell phones — just not her. Because, like most, Neighbarger believes she motors safely and attentively with a cell phone in hand, but not those other drivers.

Some drivers, such as Kathy Riddle of Waynesville, strike a middle balance between no-cell-phone McClure and talking-and-driving Neighbarger.

“I pull over on the side of the road if I need to talk,” said Riddle, who runs the Haywood Barber Shop.

Riddle said she learned the value of cell phones after, some years ago, experiencing a car breakdown on Interstate 85 in Virginia. She and her mother sat by the side of the highway for hours unable to summon help, Riddle said.

“I promised myself, if they ever come out here, I’ll get a cell phone,” the barber said.

They did, and she did — but Riddle is fearful of the level of distraction many motorists demonstrate while talking on their cell phones.

“It’s kind of scary. They get to talking, and they don’t even look while they’re driving,” she said. “And I think texting is even more dangerous than talking on a cell phone.”

That said, Riddle would support some restrictions, because, she said, it might just save some lives.

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