Driving Under the Influence

So, I was driving a car the other day (something already a bit unusual for me) and my phone rang (something that almost never happens). I happened to be in congested traffic, and I looked for a good spot to pull over, but by the time I had, the call had gone to voicemail.

It turned out to be someone looking for someone else (as it all too often is), and they seemed highly offended that I hadn’t picked up when they were calling.

“Well,” I said, “you see, I was on the bridge.”

“Well, isn’t there signal on the bridge?”

“Well, yeah,” I said, “but the thing is…I was driving.”

“Well, you still could have answered!”

No, you see, the thing is, I couldn’t have answered. Why? Because drivers on cellphones demonstrate higher levels of impairment than people driving while intoxicated. Because there’s a mountain of clear evidence which suggests that it is very, very unhealthy to drive while using a cellular phone. There are even some interesting reasons for why cellphones are more dangerous than, say, talking to a passenger. I know personally that driving while using a cellphone is dangerous, because one of my more foolish friends from college recently died while driving distracted.

Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the masterminds behind Car Talk, have accrued quite a collection of evidence on driving while distracted if you don’t believe me.

I fail to understand why people answer cellphones while driving. I mean, I fail to understand a lot of other distracted driving, also, but people who use cellphones and drive just infuriate me. It’s clearly dangerous–not just to you, but to the people around you. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that a car is a very large, very heavy object with a lot of momentum, and that being hit by one can really hurt you.

Or kill you.

I have a love/hate relationship with cellphones. As a matter of fact, I don’t have a landline–I only have a cellphone, because I live a mobile life, and it’s handy, and it’s cheaper. But I don’t consider myself always available by phone, though I often am. My phone is always on vibrate, and I often neglect to answer it. Not out of spite, or disinterest, but because I’m doing something else–like driving, enjoying a meal with a friend, having a serious conversation with a coworker, or just enjoying life. I think we don’t realize, sometimes, that cellphones haven’t been around that long, and we’ve managed to get along without them all these years.

Cellphones save lives. They really do. But they also destroy them at the same time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out with people, or at a dinner, or at the movies, or hosting people in my home…and they’ve leapt to answer their phones. For a social tool, I see a lot of social situations being disrupted by cellphone use. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve nearly been hit–on horseback, as a pedestrian, and as a fellow driver–by someone talking on a cellphone. By someone who couldn’t wait a few moments to pull over and safely make or accept a call.

It’s always interesting to witness the ways in which technology is integrated into our lives. In the case of cellphones, I do see a number of positive benefits–but I also see a danger. As a society, we’re growing more isolationist, more interested in ourselves, less interested in interacting or contributing to the lives of others. I think it’s important to step back and evaluate the role of technology in our lives when it becomes as all-consuming as cellphones are.

Kids, hang up and drive. And if you’re calling someone and they reveal the fact that they are driving, hang up on them. In addition to being illegal in a growing number of locations, it’s also really, really stupid. So stupid that I’m not even going to use profanity to illustrate my point. I can’t afford to lose any more readers!

[cell phones]
[driving]