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PHONING AND DRIVING


Safety takes the back seat

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We look back in horror and condescension at the bad old days when unseatbelted people (with perhaps a couple of belts under their belt) thought nothing of chain-smoking in their car with all the windows up and the kids unbuckled in back, nary an airbag in sight.
These days cars have more “safety features” than the space shuttle. Moms and dads who would never smoke, or get behind the wheel after having a drink, will, however, yak on the phone while transporting their properly car-seated children.
On Sunday, The New York Times reported: “Neither Drivers Nor Lawmakers Want to Stop Cellphone Use Behind Wheel.” Despite the fact that polls show everyone agrees the practice is dangerous. That is, they agree everyone else poses a danger, but that they themselves do not. What’s hypocrisy’s ring tone?
While we’re quite convinced of the evils of Driving Under the Influence, we’re strangely, equally convinced of the moral goodness of mobile phone use while driving. It shows we believe in freedom of speech. It shows how hard we work, we never stop. It shows how popular and in-demand we are. It shows we “multi-task,” which means doing a couple of things at once, neither of them well.
Phoning and driving makes people as dangerous as drunken drivers. Some scientists are particularly aghast at state laws, such as ours, which ban cell phones but allow hands-free devices. They say this makes people think it is safe, but it’s not. It’s a brain thing, not a hand thing.
“We’ve spent billions on air bags, antilock brakes, better steering, safer cars and roads, but the number of fatalities has remained constant,” University of Utah professor David Strayer, a leading researcher in the field of distracting driving, told The New York Times, “Our return on investment for those billions is zero. And that’s because we’re using devices in our cars.”
Turns out that seven years ago, the federal National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration recommended that phones (and hands-free devices) not be used by drivers, except in emergencies. The recommendation was kept from the public, partly over worries that Congress would consider the proposal a move by the NHTSA that “crossed the line into lobbying,” The New York Times reported.
The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration lobbying for highway safety? Gosh, that would be wrong. As if the cell phone industry spent the last seven years lobbying to defeat such laws. Oh, wait.
The laws are ignored anyway. The people have spoken. And texted. You can pry their cell phones from their cold, dead hands.

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