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Like we needed a study to tell us of car phone dangers

February 24, 1997

Here's an item in The Washington Post from Thursday, Feb. 13:

Talking on a cellular phone while driving may quadruple a person's risk of having a serious auto accident, a new study has found.

The research, reported in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, examined crash reports and telephone billing records of several hundred Canadian drivers with cell phones who had collisions during a 14-month period. The author calculated that within a few minutes after beginning a call in their cars, drivers were 4.3 times more likely to have an accident than they were when their phones were not in use.

I have two words for the New England Journal of Medicine, one of which is "Well," the other of which is "Duh."

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Like they needed a complicated study to tell them that people who run their yaps on the phone are life-threatening hazards to us all? Don't the people at the New England Journal of Medicine ever get out and drive?

Twice I've been run off onto the shoulder of the interstate by phone-jabbering people who weren't paying attention to which lane they were in. And once on a two-way road I was run onto the shoulder by a someone coming straight at me.

This doesn't count six other near-deaths. These occurred because the phone-talking people in the car ahead of me didn't notice that the light had changed and if I'd had a gun I would have shot them.

As George Will says, "Hang up and drive."

Last week's study showed a person talking on a car phone is just as much a hazard as a person who is at the legal level for driving drunk.

The story also said it doesn't matter whether the phone is hand-held or voice activated; the risk is the same.

Naturally, I love this story; it's like throwing red meat to a wolf. And speaking of red meat, I hope all those rare-hamburger-Nazis will take time out from protesting against the estimated one death a year caused by meat bacteria to devote some of their energy to a real life- threatening problem.

And certainly all those people who were instrumental in getting drunk driving, seatbelt and motorcycle helmet laws on the books will now turn their attention to the car-phone hazard.

But the problem with activists is this: They always activate against things they're not active in. For example, not too many anti-helmet-law activists own motorcycles, I would bet. But I'd also go out on a limb and guess that plenty of these activists own car phones - so we won't be seeing a lot of anti-car phone bills in the legislature.

They're all for safety, when it comes to someone else's toys. When it comes to their own toys they're more judicious.

Oh, I don't mean to pick on the car phone industry. I understand there are plenty of people in critical positions who need car phones - doctors for instance. By the way, have you ever noticed how many 17-year-old girls we have for doctors?

I seldom notice a doctor (and I always know they're doctors because they have those stupidly cute customized license plates - like a urologist will have a tag that reads PPDOC, a fact that doesn't speak well for the medical profession. You'd think the AMA would look into it.) as I was saying, I seldom notice a doctor talking on the car phone.

But every gum-popping, Hager-haired, mascara-dripping twit you see cruising the Dual has her ear epoxied to one of these contraptions.

And is taking her half of the road in the middle, as a general thing.

I bet you've noticed it, too. See, couldn't we all save the New England Journal of Medicine a ton of money if they'd just ask us first?

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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