Hang Up And Drive

This must be the Golden Age Of Communication, given the number of drivers talking on cell phones.

My most recent encounter with this phenomenon involved a woman in a BMW convertible who chatted away as she repeatedly changed lanes (without signaling…another pet peeve for another time), until she eventually decided to cross two lanes of traffic to make an exit. I’m not sure how she could hold a conversation while zooming down the freeway with the top down, but the real issue is that she seemed much more connected to the phone that to the other cars on the road.

According to a recent article in The Economist, cell phone use is especially distracting for drivers, because it’s more difficult for the human brain to process language and communication with someone who is not physically present. The article cited a recent Carnegie Mellon University study that found merely listening to someone talking on the phone led to a 37% decrease in the part of the brain that processes spatial tasks.

Another study found that such distractions make drivers more collision-prone than having a blood alcohol level of .08%, the legal limit in the U.S., and raises the risk of an accident by 4X.

And texting while driving multiplies that risk by several more times, as a compelling video produced by AT&T demonstrates.

Addressing this problem through laws is well underway, and although banning cell phone use while driving has shown positive results, such laws are difficult to enforce.

As always, the real answer is for individuals to decide for themselves to avoid using cell phones while behind the wheel.

Is every call so important that it’s worth the higher risk of an accident? And if it is, isn’t it worth pulling over before taking or making the call?

Sure, it’s convenient. But so is installing a garbage disposal without bothering to shut off the electricity. I did that once, and believe me: it didn’t turn out to be all that convenient after all.

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