First you dial, then you crash

By Dawn MacKeen

By Letters to the Editor

Published December 8, 2000 8:35AM (EST)

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While I agree that using telephones, handheld or otherwise, can be distracting, concentrating efforts on this specific problem leaves a broader issue unaddressed, namely, that the attitude of Americans toward driving is, in general, grievously cavalier and irresponsible. We tend to approach driving as one of our unassailable American rights, overlooking the tremendous dangers inherent in piloting big hunks of metal around at deadly speeds.

Let's leave cellphones alone and start concentrating on driver education and licensing programs that will lead to a population of well-trained drivers who take their responsibilities seriously. This approach would reduce accidents involving cellphones as well as those involving looking away from the road to speak to passengers, reaching across to the floor of the passenger side of the car for a tape or CD, lengthy sessions with the radio tuner and inappropriately timed map- or newspaper-reading, etc. Let's attack the real, whole problem rather than a single symptom.

-- Brooke Johnson

As much as I hate phone-using drivers, I might grudgingly accept their right to yak if I thought that they were conducting vital business, and, as such, moving the economy, improving their companies, etc. But, having overheard more than my fair share of cellphone calls, I harbor no such illusions. Have you bothered to listen to the average cellphone conversation? It often sounds like this: "Hi ... yeah, I'm at the store ... I dunno ... probably half an hour ... where are you? ... OK ... I don't know, what do you want to do? ... yeah ... just some food for dinner ... I dunno ... pizza, I guess ... " Etc.

I'd hate to imagine a loved one being harmed in an accident with some cellphone-using moron. Somehow, it hurts even more to imagine that the cellphone-using moron in question might have been distracted by blathering about whether they should rent the latest Mel Gibson movie or not.

-- David Johnson

Certainly there are careless cellphone users out there. But to regulate cellphone usage by banning it altogether while driving is an overreaction. When car radios were first implemented, there were accidents because people had not yet gotten accustomed to listening to the radio and paying attention to the road simultaneously. Cars were produced in which the radios only functioned while the car was stopped, a safety measure implemented to appease the anxious protesters. However, as we all now know, it's easy to listen to a radio while you drive and still drive safely -- if you maintain a modicum of good sense and courtesy.

The same is true of cellphone usage. A cellphone user can get a headset to free up his/her hands while driving. Voice-activated dialing is now available on many phones, freeing the need to punch numbers. Even the very inexpensive phones offer one-touch dialing to minimize the amount of time a driver needs to take his/her attention away from the road. That tells me that the problem is not with the phones or their availability. The problem is with the people using them. Therefore, laws should (and do, as the article pointed out) penalize the people, not the phone manufacturers.

-- JC Smyth

I am glad that someone, finally, is looking at the dangers of driver distraction. I hope that this idea extends to another dangerous driver distraction: billboards along the highway (especially animated billboards -- that's an innovation we don't need). Now, I understand corporations' need to fill our every moment with advertising, but I can't help thinking that these intrusive and obnoxious eyesores can also distract someone's attention just long enough to cause them to lose control of their car.

-- Larisa Migachyov

So where is the list of accidents avoided because someone was able to get a message through on the cellphone?

"The hits are recorded; the misses are not," Carl Sagan said years ago (on a different topic, to be sure, but the concept is the same).

Has there been an statistically significant increase (per mile driven, by the way, not an absolute increase) in "inattentive driving" incidents over the last 10 years or so? If so, let's make decisions based on that information and not based on the sob story of the week or on sloppy counting.

-- Duane Kilian

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