Cell Phones And Driving Editorial - Vile Gossip

Mark Dancey

Using Two Thumbs To Type Leaves My Knees And My Third Eye To Drive.
Hang Up and Drive: Part Two. I have done it. I've gone cold turkey and made it one day without using my cell phone while driving. Tomorrow it goes in the trunk.

It is a good day to die. At least it is here in Michigan. We've been locked in an icy battle with the heavens, and driving conditions have been horrendous. That, and my mobile phone keeps ringing. Worse, it's a PDA that racks up dozens of e-mails a day and winks a little come-hither red light to remind me from its perch in the cupholder that someone probably needs something right now. That means I need two thumbs to answer, leaving my knees and my third eye to drive. It's long past time to hang up and drive.

There are so many cell-phone users at the wheel-backed by a very powerful and vocal telecom lobby-that it's about time for the government to bring on those smart highways to get our cars from A to B without any driver involvement, even limited as it is by our chattering. Wait! Wait! No smart highway! Not yet! I love to drive. I mean, most of the time, except when I have to make a call, I love to drive. I mean, this call will only take a minute, and then I can really enjoy driving this car. What car am I in again? Damn-missed my exit.

I bought my first cell phone way back in 1991, and it was apparent to me even then that talking on my big, bulky Motorola while driving was not a good idea. (Vile Gossip, May 1991.) Things are even worse now. When did it no longer seem odd that only truckers use a turn signal when they change lanes? When did it become normal to see cars veering onto the rumble strips in broad daylight, and not just after last call? Why are we not surprised to see someone who isn't ninety-two years old chugging the interstate at 50 mph? When it became normal to see a cell phone in one of those driving hands, that's when.

Cell phones have turned us into a nation of drunk drivers. No, make that worse than drunks. A 2003 study showed that drivers on cell phones are more impaired than someone with a blood-alcohol level exceeding 0.08. It has turned the supersharp reflexes of the XBox generation into those of a senior citizen, says a 2005 study-the same study that noted that young drivers on the phone were eighteen percent slower on the brake pedal in a panic stop. Highway yakkers also caused a twofold increase in the number of simulated rear-end collisions. That rear-end-collision factor is bound to be higher in the real world, where the following car has a good chance of having a yakker at the wheel, too. There's a thought. Two cell phone users taking each other out, which is preferable to one of them running a red light while calling the dry cleaner and ramming the life out of some hapless person driving by. Cell phone distraction causes 2600 deaths yearly in the States.

Long before there's a smart highway-and a lot sooner than we might think-the government is going to flip our phones closed, pull out our earpieces, and lock down even the hands-free, voice-activated built-ins so that nothing works when the car is moving-the way it works (or doesn't) for most navigation systems.

Let the yowling begin. What about eating and driving? What about fiddling with your CD collection or talking to your passengers? What about putting on your makeup? All bad ideas, agreed, even by those of us guilty of same. But cell phones are the worst. The brain uses two different areas to control visual and audio interaction, and it is incapable of giving full attention to either when both are in play. When we're on the phone, we become blind to the road and its demands, such as those other pesky cars and their very own inattentive drivers. One study showed that drivers are almost twice as likely to be distracted by wireless devices than by their passengers and are seven times more likely to have an incident behind the wheel when talking on a cell phone than while eating.

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