Chicago Sun-Times

The Cranky Commuter hangs up

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It's confession time.

I know I should stop talking on the cell phone while driving. I know it's illegal in Chicago, even though my chances of getting stopped for it are about equal to my chances of getting ticketed for jaywalking. I know it's dangerous -- new studies come in every year comparing driving while talking on a cell phone to driving while drunk. The National Safety Council recently called for a nationwide ban on cell phone use while driving -- warning that use of a cell phone increases the risk of a crash by four times.

Hands-free or hands-on -- it doesn't matter. Cell phone use takes your mind and your eyes off the road. But people keep doing it -- think of how many times you're cut off in traffic and the driver's on the cell. Think of how many times YOU have had near misses because you're on the phone. Sure, it's convenient to use the phone to let people know where you are and when you'll be home. Sure it's nice to be able to use traffic time catching up with friends or clients. But it's just a terrible idea.

Laws aren't going to stop cell phone use while driving. There had to be something else -- a sense of social shame. There has to be a tipping point -- to go from thinking it's ok to drive while on the phone to thinking it's akin to breaking wind in public.

Think of how many people smoked in the 1970s -- one of my jobs as a kid was to empty and clean out the household ashtrays. My kids have never even seen an ashtray. It's not because cigarettes are illegal -- they're banned from many indoor places, but they're still legal outside and in people's homes. Most people don't smoke because finally, enough of them got the message that it's insanely bad for your health, and social mores evolved to make it seem silly instead of cool. That's what going to have to happen with cell phones and cars.

But some people have to be in the vanguard -- like the people who refused to smoke in the 1940s and risked looking like health nuts who only drink milk and eat raw vegetables. Some people have to decide to be cranks about it, and refuse to answer the phone unless the car is pulled over. Some people have to decide they're not going to talk to friends on the phone if they know their friends are driving.

I've done probably 946 really stupid things in my life. But I've never, ever driven drunk, because I was always afraid of hitting a kid. For the same reason, I vow to not talk on the phone while driving. That particular bit of stupidity is over. Will someone else take the pledge with me?

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I stopped using the phone behind the wheel, unless I'm standing still, too. That's why we have voicemail. If my phone rings and my wife is in the car with me, I hand the phone off to her.

Now if we can tackle the problem of people talking on cellphones while steering carts in grocery stores. I almost got knocked by the same person twice on my last trip to the Dominick's.

I stopped talking on the phone a long time ago, although I will admit to calling home or work to say I'm stuck in traffic.(I try do to that when I'm actually stopped in traffic.) I don't answer my phone if it rings while I'm driving.
How about taking this one step further - suggesting to someone who calls us while they are driving that they hang up and call us when they get to the place they're going?

K. Gurski

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This page contains a single entry by Mary Wisniewski published on January 17, 2009 2:40 PM.

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