Hang up and drive
Years ago, comedian George Carlin used to have a bit about drivers who hold up traffic by going far below the speed limit. Invariably, he pointed out, when you pulled up next to the offending vehicle, it was being driven by an old guy in a hat.
Nowadays, that car causing problems up ahead turns out to be driven by somebody talking on a cell phone. It never fails.
My favorite Oregon legislator and former partner, Greg Macpherson, has taken a keen interest in this question, now that the dangers of driving while under the influence of your phone have hit home to him -- literally. In his most recent newsletter, he writes:
On May 30, 2006, a Jeep Wrangler driven by an 18-year-old collided with a bicycle near Medford, causing the cyclist critical brain injuries. That event was notable to me for several reasons.I'd go further than Big Mac, and completely outlaw holding a cell phone while driving, the way California apparently has. Like many cell phone users, I've worked one while behind the wheel myself, and it's easy to see how dangerous it is, even if you get away with it.
First, the victim is a relative of my wife. Second, as a cyclist myself, I am concerned about the frequency of collisions between motor vehicles and bicycles. And finally, as a member of the Oregon House of Representatives for Lake Oswego and nearby areas, I have a responsibility to improve the safety of the traveling public.
The young driver of the Jeep in this case was turning left at a suburban intersection on a sunny afternoon. The cyclist was approaching the intersection. The Jeep driver cut the corner as he turned, striking the cyclist, who was without fault.
A witness reported that the Jeep’s brake lights did not come on before the collision. The young driver apparently did not see the cyclist and hit him with full force.
Why would anyone make such a mistake? In this case, the driver was talking to a friend on a cell phone. Telephone records show that the conversation had been going on for 7 minutes when the collision occurred.
There is mounting evidence that cell phone use impairs a motorist’s ability to drive safely. A recent study by the University of Utah concluded that a driver using a cell phone can be as dangerous as a drunk driver.
It’s well known that the young have more accidents than more experienced drivers. According to the National Safety Council, only 13 percent of drivers are under age 25, but those young drivers have 29 percent of all accidents. Any parent who has paid auto insurance premiums on a teenager understands that all too well.
It’s also apparent that young people today use cell phones a lot. As shown by this case, the combination of inexperience and cell phone use can be tragic, even lethal.
Oregon already has a system of provisional licensing for young drivers. Under a provisional license, for example, young drivers cannot carry young passengers who are not family members. That restriction recognizes the distraction created by conversations with friends.
But the friend need not be in the vehicle to create a distraction. And the technology that enables more than two cell phones to be connected at once expands the potential for distraction.
For the safety of all who use the public roadways, Oregon needs to prohibit the use of cell phones by young drivers until they have greater experience. Age 21, the same point at which we permit young adults to consume alcohol, would provide a boundary with some logic.
Some say the use of cell phones by all drivers should be restricted. Last week California enacted a requirement that drivers talking on cell phones must use a “hands-free” technology so the phone need not be held to the ear.
Such a restriction must balance the improvement in public safety against loss in efficiency for those who depend on a cell phone in their work. But that trade-off does not exist for young drivers, whose cell phone use is almost entirely social.
For more information and statistics related to cell phones and driving, visit the Insurance Information Institute website: http://www.iii.org/media/hottopics/insurance/cellphones/
While we're at it, we ought to outlaw operating a moving vehicle while eating (commonplace), reading (which I've seen more than once), or watching a video screen (which I even saw a Tri-Met bus driver doing once). Your car is a 3,000-pound bullet, people. Give it your undivided attention.
And don't look up at the aerial tram [rim shot].