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Turn off that phone and drive

By Staff | Mar 12, 2010

The notion of a telephone that could be instantaneously available anywhere was the stuff of science fiction in the quite recent past. Just think how impressive it seemed when we first saw Capt. James T. Kirk contact the Starship Enterprise from a planet’s surface using a hand-held communicator.

Twenty-five years ago, almost nobody had a cell phone. Today, it’s hard to find anyone who does not. It has become possible to place or receive a phone call virtually anywhere. As of January 2007, 231 million people in the United States subscribed to wireless communication devices, according to an issue paper produced by the Insurance Information Institute. It’s likely that number has grown in the three years since that study.

The advantages that provides in terms of conducting both personal and work-related business are apparent. For travelers stranded on a deserted roadway far from home and for anyone needing emergency assistance, cell phones may quite literally be life-savers.

The proliferation of cell phones can also be an annoyance. The ring can come at an inopportune moment or in an inappropriate place. Most of us have been subjected to being included in at least one side of someone else’s conversation being conducted well within earshot.

On balance, however, the problems cell phones have created are far outweighed by the benefits they provide.

Except that is, when it comes to those people who use hand-held cell phones while driving.

These folks are everywhere and their numbers are on the rise. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. has released a study finding that 73 percent of drivers talk on cell phones while driving.

That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. We’ve all witnessed this behavior:

  • The teenager with phone in one hand in rapt conversation with a friend while navigating traffic or even attempting to parallel park. Worse yet, while text messaging or accessing the Internet.
  • The shopper traversing a busy shopping center parking lot, phone in hand and mind only partially aware of the moving cars and pedestrians so dangerously close.
  • The business person intent on closing a sale while speeding down a busy highway.

The particulars vary but the essential facts are straightforward:

  • Just one hand is on the steering wheel.
  • Only a portion of the person’s attention is being devoted to the business of maintaining control of a moving vehicle.

According to the National Highway Safety Administration, 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of near crashes involve some form of driver distraction.

Just how many of these were related to the use of cell phones while driving isn’t known. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, however, to figure out that having one hand off the steering wheel and one’s mind engaged in the particulars of a conversation compromise the ability to drive safely.

Farm News urges the Legislature to take a serious look at regulatory options that might stem risky cell phone use while on the road. A total ban on using cell phones while driving is probably overkill. Even so, it may be that some restrictions are needed. At very least, this safety issue warrants a hard look. The recent push by State Rep. David Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, for legislation that would ban texting while driving is a step in the right direction.

And while our legislators ponder, we should all turn off those phones while we drive.

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