Cell-phone drivers, take the hint -- hang up!
A driver chatting effortlessly on the phone as his car is whizzing down the road is becoming a more common sight -- and a very unwelcome one in most states.
Is it safe to dial and drive? That is the question many states and insurance companies are deliberating.
State legislators and local officials agree that driving while using a cell phone poses a distraction that may lead to a car accident, but little is being done to address this issue.
There have been countless accidents, even those that end fatally, blamed on the use of cells phone while driving, but authorities claim they are lacking hard data that could help legislatures propose bills that would ban cell phone use while driving.
Cellular phones are being used by more than 54 million Americans and the number is expected to grow to 80 million by 2001. Vehicle transportation is also growing, with a 14 percent increase of automobiles using highways. Spain, Italy, Brazil, Chile, England, and Taiwan all have banned the use of cell phones while a vehicle is in motion.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that those driving while distracted by the use of cell phone are four times more likely to get into an accident.
But critics counter that talking on the phone while driving is no more dangerous than changing the radio station.
In Oregon, one of the first states that tried to ban the use of cell phones while driving, a bill that would have created a class D traffic infraction with a $75 fine was withdrawn after state police and highway officials threatened an educational campaign to stop the bill. Oregon recorded 105 cell-phone related automobile crashes in 1999, two resulting in deaths.
Brooklyn, Ohio, recently passed a cell phone law and wasted no time in issuing tickets. For first time offenders the fine is a slap on the wrist of $3, but the second offense could be $100 and even higher if the person were to be involved in an accident. The law states that both hands must be on the wheel while using a cell phone.
The problem is that so many Americans are becoming part-time drivers, whether it's because they're eating, daydreaming, or yelling at someone in or out of their moving car.
The problem could be solved if those who used cell phones would be more cautious and only use their phone in a emergency, or pull over when they had to make a call. There are even ear pieces designed especially for those who drive.
Insurance companies are also checking to see if there is a link between cell phones and automobile crashes. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., which insures 22 percent of American drivers, doesn't have a cell phone policy, claiming that it would be too difficult to tell the difference between eating, turning knobs, and a cell phone.
--Try to get a "hands free" phone, and know how the phone works before you try to use it.
--Use memory dial, and don't dial while in heavy traffic.
--Don't look up your e-mail or messages while in motion.
--Always keep your eyes on the road.
Sounds like some simple advice, but so many of us choose to ignore it. How many lives will have to be lost before laws are passed? We can only hope that motorists will be aware of the dangers of driving while distracted by a phone call.