Cell Phones: Tips to Stay Safe on the Road

By: Christine Peppler

As most people would agree, operating a motor vehicle requires attention to avoid a catastrophe such as a crash. Obviously, there are numerous things that can distract a driver and create a potentially disastrous lapse in attention: retrieving an item that is dropped, holding a conversation with a passenger, or simply daydreaming while behind the wheel. Studies in the past 10 to 15 years however have consistently indicated that use of cell phones while driving is particularly risky. Undoubtedly, with well over 200 million cell phone users in the US alone risks are amplified based on frequency of use if nothing else.

Although initial studies probed issues related to the use of hand held devices which forced drivers to take their eyes off of the road while dialing, or use their hands to support the phone while talking, studies in more recent years have focused on examining the effects of distraction caused simply by talking on cell phones; even in the case of hands-free devices. The results of most of these studies concluded that although hands-free phones reduced the visual and mechanical distraction, the "cognitive" distraction of simply being involved in the cell phone conversation was still present and was more critical in impairing driver performance. Thus, switching to a hands-free device does not appear to reduce the risk of accident.

The benefits of having a cell phone available when driving is not in question. Cell phones have proven their utility in countless situations where emergencies have arisen. Safety issues instead center on how these devices can be safely and responsibly used by drivers. It is not the intent of this brief article to review the multitude of studies conducted but instead, to simply offer a few suggestions on how to reduce driving risks related to cell phone use. Obviously, merely switching to a hands-free device is not the all encompassing answer. For those cell phone user's who rely on their driving time to conduct business by telephone or to hold conversations with family members and friends who are always on the go, the answers may seem discouraging at first glance but when considered in light of the possible risk of life are rather minimal.

1. Turn off your cell phone while driving. This will eliminate any ringing which can be distracting and will still allow callers to leave messages on voice mail for you to listen and respond to later.

2. If you don't feel you can turn your cell phone off during the time you are driving, there are common suggestions which can help reduce the risk of cell phone use when driving:

Pull off the road to place and receive calls.

Place your phone where it is convenient so that you don't have to search or reach across the car to retrieve it to answer calls.

Take only urgent calls. Calls of a routine nature should be ended by agreeing to call someone back at a better time.

As with any conversation while driving, avoid emotionally charged or lengthy discussions. These distract drivers more than brief, factual types of conversations.

Keep your eyes on the road; use speed dial or use your cell phone only for the purpose of receiving calls while you are driving.

Avoid taking notes, looking up numbers, checking messages, etc. which add to the distraction.

Let a passenger handle any calls

Cell phones continue to play an important role in our society and, in a number of instances, can do much to protect lives. However, like any significant distraction when driving, they can create potentially life-threatening situations. Drivers should carefully evaluate the risks to themselves and others when choosing to engage in any activity that takes away from the focus of operating a car. Responsible use of a cell phone when driving can possibly be the difference between life and death.

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