Jewish World Review June 17, 2005/ 10 Sivan, 5765

Greg Crosby

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Driving While Talking | A new study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has shown that driving a vehicle while talking on the phone is dangerous. We kinda all knew that, right? But what's really interesting is that the study has also shown that even LISTENING on the cellphone is dangerous. Not only that, but using headsets or other hands-free devices, while not quite as bad as hand-held phones, are still more apt to cause accidents than not being on the phone at all.

So the lesson is, unless it's a real emergency, stay off the phone while driving! Why is that such a hard concept for so many to get? I first wrote about this problem in a March 2001 column titled, "Get Off The Phone," and things have gotten a lot worse since then. It seems that at least half of all drivers I see are on a cellphone these days, while sometimes drinking coffee or doing other things at the very same time.

The study was done over a period of one year and kept track of 100 cars and drivers. Cellphones and other wireless devices contributed to more crashes, near-crashes and other incidents than did other distractions, the government study found. The vast majority of the dangerous occurrences (including the crashes) happened while drivers were on the phone listening and talking rather than dialing a phone number. See, it's not always about keeping one's hands on the steering wheel; it's really about devoting one's attention to driving the car.

Talking while driving, especially if one is engaged in lively conversation, puts your head in a different place and diverts your attention from the road. The report sited the next biggest distraction after cellphone talking and listening, was what they called "passenger-related" issues, including talking to a fellow passenger and dealing with children in the back seat.

This is all common sense stuff, but as pointed out from time to time in this column, common sense is not at all very common today. People are multi-tasking all over the place; eating while working at their desks, raising children while holding down a full time job, and certainly driving while on the phone.

Being on the phone used to be an independent task, something that you had to stop doing other things in order to do. You know, "I have to pull over and make a call." "I have to get home and wait for an important call tonight." "Excuse me, I must make a call, I'll be right back." Not any more. Now being on the phone is something you do while doing something else —almost anything else.

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People are on the phone while shopping, while walking, while driving, while working, while barbequing, while babysitting, while bathing, while .well, you name it! In fact, about the only two activities I can think of where it's impossible to be on the phone are sleeping and swimming under water, and I'm not altogether sure of the last one. If there isn't already some sort of devise for phoning under water, then there will be soon. I'm pretty sure that some even use a phone while sky diving, if the reception is there. I've actually seen a person getting a haircut while on the cellphone — keeping the conversation going while clumsily juggling the phone back and force between right and left hands as the barber attempts to maneuver scissors and razor around him.

What is there to talk about that is so important to so many people? Why do so many need to spend the majority of their days on the phone? Is it that most people are so lonely that they simply have to be in touch with someone all the time? I once had a friend who couldn't bear to spend an evening alone in his apartment; he felt uncomfortable sitting at home and reading a book, or listening to music, or watching television — he needed to be out with people every single night. Maybe there are many more people like my friend who just can't stand to be alone with themselves, even for the short time it takes to go to the market or drive to the gas station.

I would like to go on about this thing even more, but I have to stop now and make a call. I absolutely refuse to talk on the phone while writing a column. .

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2005 Greg Crosby