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Cell phones are a hard habit for drivers to break

Wednesday, January 21, 2009 | 10:00 a.m. CST

We’ve all done it. Whether it’s driving down the interstate or just a couple blocks to the gas station, we’ve all used a cell phone while driving.

It rings and we instinctively answer it. And there are some of us who do something far worse: text while we drive. I am guilty of the former and the latter. I’ve called my parents on my way home to Kansas City when I pass a certain spot, so they know I’m half an hour away. I call my boyfriend when I get close to Columbia. I text my parents as I wait to turn right onto Stadium Boulevard from the off ramp of I-70.

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How dangerous can it all be? Is there really that much harm in making a phone call while you drive? What if it only lasts a couple minutes? How distracted does one become when using a cell phone while driving?

The National Safety Council has called for a nationwide ban on cell phone usage while driving, including hands-free devices. According to the council’s Web site, 80 percent of crashes are because of driver inattention and cell phones are the number one source of it. There is no difference in the amount of distraction with hand-held devices. Drivers who use a cell while driving are four times more likely to be involved in a crash than those who do not. Using a cell phone while driving has also been compared to driving while drunk.

When I wait at stoplights, I often count the number of people talking on a cell phone while they drive. It’s unbelievable. Sometimes, it feels like there are more people on a cell phone than off. I yell at people inside my car to get off the cell phone, even when I know I’m just as guilty as them. We’ve all done it and if a ban is passed, it’s going to be a hard habit to break.

But really, it’s a dangerous thing to drive while talking on a cell phone. One of my first roommates hit a deer while talking to her boyfriend while driving. I’ve missed exits on the interstate and lost ten or twenty minutes finding a way to turn around. My boss, who recently had a baby, complained to me about how nervous she felt to have her daughter in the car when she could see other drivers talking and texting while they drove.

Driving is dangerous already. I am honestly not a very good driver, the very dented front of my car can attest to it. I am already easily distracted by my own daydreaming and a cell phone just makes it worse. I’ve been trying to cut the number and length of cell phone calls I make and receive in the car. When someone calls me, I tell them I’m driving and will call them back shortly. When I am driving from Columbia to Kansas City, I call to tell my mother I’m leaving and when I’m thirty minutes away. I do the same for my boyfriend when I make the trip back. Otherwise, I try not to use the cell phone at all.

If someone does need to either make a call or receive a call, no matter how important it is, it can wait the five or ten minutes it takes to find a place to park, right? What’s more important: answering your cell phone so you don’t seem rude or causing a ten car pile up on the interstate?

It would be better for all of us if our state government did ban cell phone use while driving. There would be fewer wrecks and perhaps our car insurance would get a little cheaper. Or maybe people will stop cutting me off on I-70. Or maybe I’ll stop missing the north 435 exit and not have to waste twenty minutes driving to Liberty to turn around.

 Lauren Titterington was a reporter for the Columbia Missourian on the Muse beat in the summer of 2008.

 


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