Put away the cell phone and drive

January 09, 2008|By KEVIN COWHERD

Here is the only cell-phone policy that makes any sense for drivers, and it doesn't take a hot-shot research study to figure it out: Don't talk and drive, period.

You know this. I know this. Anyone who has ever called in a take-out order to a Chinese restaurant on York Road and nearly plowed into another car because of intense concentration while shouting "Yes, one General Tso's chicken!" into a crackling cell phone knows this.

(Yes, this actually happened to me. More on the whole ugly incident later.)

So why do we need any more studies that tell us driving while talking on a cell is a big mistake?

But here comes a new one anyway, this one from the University of Utah, where the eggheads there have already done all sorts of cell-phone studies.

The new study found - are you ready? - that motorists who talk on cell phones drive more hesitantly than undistracted drivers.

I know, I know ... you're shocked.

You're thinking: Someone yapping on a cell and driving like he's in a fog - who could imagine that?

The study also showed that all this slow-poke driving by cell-phone users increased the average drive time for everyone else by as much as 10 percent.

This, of course, is another shocker.

Drivers on cell phones slow traffic. Stop the presses.

Anyway, by my count, this is about the 10,000th study that shows it's probably not a good idea to drive and talk on a cell.

It's about the 10,000th study that shows when motorists don't devote their full attention to the road, bad things happen.

And sometimes these bad things are a little more serious than someone being late for an appointment or a ballgame.

Sometimes the bad thing involves a new tombstone being chiseled, or one of those sad-looking highway memorials going up with the little makeshift cross and flowers.

Who doesn't know this already if they've ever seen how people drive with a phone to one ear?

Maybe at the corporate offices of Verizon Wireless or Sprint or T-Mobile you can still find people who say with a straight face: "Driving and talking on a cell? No, I don't see a safety issue here. After all, we advocate (wink, wink) hands-free cell-phone use by drivers."

But this would be the latter-day equivalent of Big Tobacco execs professing astonishment that smoking could cause cancer.

No, anyone with common sense knows driving and talking on a cell is crazy - at least as crazy as driving and putting on makeup, driving and reading the newspaper or driving and spreading ketchup on a burger, and I have seen all three things.

No wonder old people are scared to death to drive these days.

They were taught: Two hands on the wheel, pay attention to the road at all times, drive defensively.

Not, "Hey, give me a call when you get on the Beltway, and we'll talk about who the Ravens should pick in the draft - and don't worry about weaving in front of that 18-wheeler."

Yep, it's an Asphalt Jungle out there.

Big SUVs, people chattering on cell phones and lots of impatient, head-case drivers - that makes for a relaxing drive to go see the grandkids, doesn't it?

So when do we as a society wake up and do the right thing?

When do we say: That's it, we must've been nuts to let people drive and yap on their cells. From now on, it's against the law.

Hands-free calls, hand-held calls, doesn't matter. No more driving and talking on the cell, period. And if the police catch you breaking the law, you get a ticket and big-time fine.

Not that I'd have to worry about getting popped, since I am now officially terrified of using my cell when I drive.

The last straw was the incident with the Chinese restaurant on York Road and the screeching of brakes as a blue Honda Accord suddenly loomed while I shouted my order of General Tso's chicken into the phone.

I didn't even get to the shrimp fried rice. Because when you almost plow into a car at a red light, you tend to lose your appetite.

Your heart is pounding and your hands are sweaty and your legs are shaking.

And when your car finally squeals to a halt an inch from the other guy's bumper, and he turns and gives you the finger and the woman on the phone at the Chinese restaurant says, "Will there be anything else?" your answer tends to be, "No, that should do it."

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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