Phones are smart — but people, not so much

By Tom Joyce - [email protected]

Tom Joyce

I like to think that newspaper readers are intelligent and thoughtful people who are a breed apart in these superficial times in which we live — as are readers of the written word in general.

So what I am about to say today should not apply to you, but to those who persist in talking on cell phones while driving. My message to them is: Do you realize how dumb you look?

Just gaze around while you are stopped at any busy intersection nowadays — such as U.S. 52 and U.S. 601 — and you’ll see people whizzing by, the phones rested against the sides of their faces as if growing there. Some drivers might be sitting right in front of your vehicle at the intersection jabbering away, still keeping everyone behind them waiting long after the light turns green, so engrossed in their conversations are they.

Now, I’m certain these must be highly important or emotionally meaningful conversations, such as the guy in that pickup over there who undoubtedly is trying to find out the address for where to send his Rhodes Scholarship application.

And that blond woman passing by in the next lane behind the wheel of the red convertible — of course, she’s on the phone with the prince of Monaco, who is making arrangements to meet her on the French Riviera.

But regardless of whatever vital communications they are engaged in — or not — these people just come off looking idiotic to me. There are few things sadder than someone who thinks he or she is doing something cool, but which actually is kind of goofy.

It is just further evidence of the fact that while we might live in the era of smartphones, it is also the era of stupid people.

And talking on a cell phone while behind the wheel is also quite dangerous, based on a recent report from the National Safety Council.

That organization estimates that one-fourth of all traffic crashes — which breaks down to 25 percent, for us who aren’t Rhodes Scholars — are linked to the use of electronic devices.

Deborah Hersman, the National Safety Council CEO and former chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, further estimates than one-tenth of all drivers use a phone in their vehicles on a daily basis.

Of course, this includes talking on cell phones along with texting, which has been banned in 46 states, and for good reason.

The fact that people’s hands or fingertips are engaged during such uses is not the problem, but their brains. And keep in mind that most have a hard enough time driving a car even without such distractions, and this is especially true for younger, less-experienced motorists.

But the dirty little secret from a societal standpoint is that distracted driving involving electronic devices now accounts for more traffic crashes than drunk driving, according to several studies I researched.

Now put that into perspective: Someone who gets behind the wheel who is impaired is committing a serious crime that can result not only in the deaths of innocent people, but subject the offender to loss of license, jail terms, stiff fines, high insurance costs, etc.

Yet someone talking on a cell phone while behind the wheel is not guilty of a crime, which is criminal in itself, though such behavior causes more accidents than drunk driving — and therefore can be even more deadly. It’s easy to point the finger at an intoxicated driver, who rightfully deserves such scrutiny, but somehow it’s not “fashionable” to target cell phone users in a similar manner.

The question is why there haven’t been more widespread crackdowns on cell phone use, other than outlawing texting.

Sometimes, accidents linked to that aren’t easy to prove, compared to alcohol-related crashes, where empty containers or blood-alcohol levels can provide sufficient evidence. An errant motorist is not prone to admit to such use, and there might be no witnesses to their phone talk.

Could the fact that the cell-phone industry is a trillion-dollar enterprise, and growing, also be a factor?

I remember when drunk driving was viewed as an epidemic back in the 1980s, which led to crackdowns by lawmakers that included more severe punishments and stepped-up law enforcement efforts such as traffic checkpoints.

The result has been a drop in deaths and injuries stemming from drunken driving.

There is no reason why the same kind of crackdown can’t be applied to cell phones while driving, given the startling statistics on the carnage caused — including 1,535,490 crashes in 2013 alone.

Legislators need to act now, since the cell-phone-talking drivers themselves are too inconsiderate — or “cool” — to cease and desist on their own.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce Joyce

By Tom Joyce

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