In September of, 2011, I posted my first article to this blog. Since then, I’ve kept my resolution to devote my blog exclusively to my areas of expertise: interpersonal communication skills, consensus building, persuasive communication, negotiation and conflict management. I’ve kept that resolution despite many temptations to break it.
Today, I’m breaking that resolution for the first time in almost three years. I hope this tells you how very important today’s topic is to me. I ask my readers to do me the honor of reading this post all the way through and making a special effort to share this article with people they care about.
This is a life-or-death topic, and one that, when we understand the facts, people of all political stripes should be able to agree upon. Study after study has shown three things:
- Talking on the phone while driving is at least as dangerous as driving drunk.
- Hands-free technology does not significantly reduce the danger of conversing by phone while driving.
- Talking on the phone is not equivalent to conversing with passengers in the vehicle.
In his article, “Yes, Talking On A Hands-Free Cellphone While Driving Is As Bad As Driving Drunk,” Jim Edwards summarizes, and provides links to, some of the studies showing the ineffectiveness of hands-free technology to reduce these dangers. He quotes the National Safety Council’s report that 24% of all car crashes involve cell phone conversations. Think about that. Almost one fourth of all car crashes involve cell phone conversations.
The Council further reports that it is difficult to assess the percentage of crashes that result in fatalities, probably due to drivers’ reluctance to admit cell phone usage after an accident and the difficulty police have in testing for or proving such usage. However, there’s no denying the fact that phoning while driving is killing people.
Another problem is that, even those who accept that phoning while driving is dangerous believe that they themselves are exceptions to the rule.
I confess that I, too, used to believe I could be the exception. Written summaries of studies don’t always grab our attention. What did grab my attention was an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show. Although the show focused on texting while driving, some of the examples presented also cover phone conversations. Actually seeing video of drivers on a test track veering onto the grass and knocking down orange traffic cones affected me in a way no number of words on a page could do.
Equally moving were the interviews with drivers who had seriously hurt or killed someone while using the phone. These people were younger than I am, with much better reflexes than I have. They, too, thought they were the exceptions who could use the phone and the car simultaneously. And they had lost hope of ever fully recovering from the guilt and trauma of their experiences.
In addition, Oprah interviewed scientists who explained what happens to the brain when we try to multitask. For example, when you talk on the phone, the zone of your peripheral vision literally shrinks inward; you actually lose sight of the areas beside you from which another car, a bicycle or something that fell off a truck could veer into your lane.
You can watch the Oprah episode here, and I urge you with all my heart to do so.
The show ends by asking people to take a pledge to make their car a “no phone zone.” I took that pledge. If I really need to speak with someone urgently, I wait till I can safely pull into a parking lot or such like. Moreover, when I phone someone, I ask if they are driving. If they are, I tell them we’ll speak later, and disconnect.
I broke my blog resolution to urge you to join me in taking Oprah’s pledge. Are you worried about the flack you might get from people whose calls have to wait? In my experience, explaining that I took Oprah’s pledge, and what that means, dries up the flack.
I can’t remember anyone giving me grief once they knew about my pledge. Perhaps some people just don’t tell me I annoy them, but I’d rather have them annoyed with me than dead or in jail because I enabled a dangerous practice.
I once received a call from an insurance adjuster who was on the road between San Antonio and Houston. I briefly mentioned my pledge and told him the conversation could wait. Several minutes later, he phoned again to say he was so touched when I took his safety into account that he had pulled over from the highway to call me back.
If you still believe you are the exception, try a challenge: Start a phone conversation with someone and do nothing else at the same time. After a few minutes, stop, repeat to the other person what they have told you, and ask how accurate you were. Now resume the conversation while also playing solitaire or doing a simple task like washing dishes. Use the speaker so your hands are free. After a few minutes, ask your friend to again test the accuracy of what you heard. Now take a look at your simple task; can you see a solitaire move you missed or a dirty spot on the dishes you washed?
I predict you will find you missed more of the conversation, and also performed poorly and/or slowly at your other task, when talking on the phone hands free.
There are people who pay other people to gather outside Planned Parenthood clinics and harass every woman who enters, never mind that most of them are going for the birth control that will eliminate any issue of abortion.
There are other people who keep candlelight vigils outside prisons when someone convicted of a capital offense is scheduled for execution.
All these people intend to respect life. If they do, why don’t they hire folks to harass auto manufacturers who mislead customers into thinking hands-free phoning is safer than hand-held? After all, even George W. Bush, during his first run for President, said that decent, reasonable people can disagree about abortion. But considering the studies cited in this article, what decent, reasonable person could deny that phoning while driving kills?
Why don’t the people keep candlelight vigils outside their state legislatures to pass laws against phoning or texting while driving? Reasonable people might disagree about whether murderers deserve death, but no reasonable person could deny that the innocent victims of distracted drivers do not deserve death.
Such laws may be difficult to enforce, but having them on the books is a step in the right direction, a step that will bring this widespread danger greater visibility in the public eye.
Whether or not you are zealous enough to harass autoworkers or picket your state legislature, will you take Oprah’s pledge? If only a few of my readers join me in this, then among us, we will save innocent lives.