Hang Up! Just Drive!
Are you ready to take a test? Okay, here goes:
Do you own a hand-held cell phone?
Do you keep it with you in your car?
Do you call someone while you are driving?
Do you answer the phone while you are driving?
Do you turn corners with one hand while holding the phone with the other?
Do you conduct business on the phone?
Do you call someone as soon as your leave the house in the morning? For business?
Do you ever argue with anyone on the phone while you are driving?
Do you ever get upset during a conversation while you are driving?
Do you know that New Jersey has a law against driving while using a hand-held cell phone?
Oh — by the way — do you ever drink, eat, comb your hair, put on make up, read or text while you are driving?
An interesting experiment took place several years ago in Northfield, New Jersey. Eleven special enforcement police patrols issued 349 summonses during two weeks under a $4000 grant from the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety. The patrols put in a combined 45 hours on the assignment. Violators of the year-old state ban on driving while holding a cell phone were fined $100 plus $30 in court costs. Publicity in local papers reinforced the law and the penalty.
Lt. Arthur Faden, who initiated the “Hang Up! Just Drive!” effort, said the goal was to educate the public. He did preliminary work at a busy intersection in the community where he sat in an unmarked car and observed the drivers of 200 passing cars. He found l7 disobeying the cell phone law as they talked while holding their phone in their hand. Another seven were violating the statute by texting while driving. After the two weeks of targeted enforcement, Faden conducted a follow-up observation of 200 cars at the same intersection. He found six drivers holding their phones while driving and two texting.
Faden said, “ I think this was a great educational tool for the city to use and we will use it again. Now the people know we are enforcing the cell phone law and what the consequences are, they will be more careful.” He added, “Statistics show that drivers who are distracted are involved in more accidents, and talking on a cell phone — whether we like to think about it or not — is a distraction.”
Northfield police will continue their high alert surveillance for drivers using cell phones. This includes a plain clothes officer using a radio to call ahead to a uniformed officer who is waiting to pull the driver over to the side and issue a summons.
Remember the movie, “Network”, when Peter Finch sticks his head out of his apartment window and shouts to the city, “I’m mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” That scene flashed through my mind as I walked along Burroughs Avenue in Linwood one peaceful morning. As I reached the corner and waited, I watched driver after driver turn the corner from Oak Avenue onto Burroughs with one hand on the wheel — while talking on the phone held in the other hand. I felt like Peter Finch. I wanted to yell at all those drivers! But their windows were closed and they were oblivious to a lone walker watching them take the corner.
Have you watched these drivers? Most appear to be deeply involved in conversations. Sometimes, they seem to be angry with contorted faces. That’s when I really worry what’s going to happen next. Psychologists have told us about attention span and doing more than one thing at once. The results have been proven in scientific laboratories. Now, we have the behavior happening all around us without laboratory controls. Accidents on the way to happen.
Do you know the answer about the current New Jersey Law ? That using hand-held cell phones or texting while driving is a “primary offense“? When the first New Jersey statute was passed as a secondary offense, Robert Rodriguez, director of the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, compared the cell phone law to the state law requiring the use of seat belts. “We want to analyze human behavior to see if making it tougher is necessary.” They found 2 of every 10 drivers were not buckling their seat belts when it was a secondary offense and changed the law to a primary offense.
Different states have passed different laws. New Hampshire with its motto, “Live Free or Die” is the only state in the union without a mandatory seat belt law. But it did pass the first law in the nation against “distracted driving” in 2001. This prohibits talking on a cell phone, eating, drinking, or putting on make up while behind the wheel. Drivers face fines up to $1000 if police find any of the distracting activity caused an accident.
“If you’re going to have a law, it should cover all distractions,” said Jonathan Adkins of the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit group that represents safety officers. Adkins added that there is no evidence that using a headset makes telephone use any safer while driving. A study funded by the American Automobile Association found that changing radio dials, talking with other passengers, eating, drinking, grooming and writing were also common activities for drivers. Pam Fischer, an AAA spokesperson, said, “Research shows that it’s the conversation, not the device that causes the distraction.”
Laws against cell phone use vary in their specific prohibitions. Teenage drivers are banned in certain states as well as bus drivers except in emergencies. Some municipalities have passed their own rules. The bottom line is that legislatures in each state research, debate and decide what actions they will take to protect the citizens in their state. Drivers need to remember that even with hands-free cell phones, two free hands can lead to other “distractions”. The toughest danger to avoid while driving may be any telephone conversation that becomes intense or heated. Don’t risk it. Just drive and focus all your attention on the road. It may be the best decision you have ever made.