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Birney Imes: Cars and cell phones


Birney Imes



While it may be a little early to be thinking about resolutions for 2012, it's past time we consider the relationship between cell phones and driving. 


I was vividly reminded of this on the way to West Point last week when I thumped over a large piece of an 18 wheeler's tire tread lying in the westbound lane of Highway 82 near the airport exit. 


While I wasn't fiddling with an electronic device when I hit the thing, I was trying to find a phone number in a pocket notebook. 


I never saw it. Could have been dog or, god forbid, a human. 


A gal talking on a cell phone almost plowed into Beth last week. Driving a car with a Monroe County tag, she accelerated as she pulled out of the Huddle House onto Bluecutt. Beth says the woman, with her hand and phone up to her face, never saw her until she was out in the road. 


On Tuesday the National Transportation Safety Board called for the 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the non-emergency use of portable electronic devices for all drivers. 


According to Oprah's "No Phone Zone" website eight people will die today in the U.S., victims of the distraction caused by drivers using electronic devices. 


In March 6, 2010, Oprah (Could we just not just send Congress home and put Oprah in charge of the country for a year or two?) launched her "No Phone Zone" campaign in which people pledge not to text or not to text and use a cell phone while driving. As of Saturday, 423,330 had taken the pledge. 


The Internet is full of heart-wrenching stories of people who have lost loved ones to this plague that has reached epidemic proportions. On Oprah's site a father tells of talking to his 18-year-old son when the line went silent. The boy had crashed into an oak tree and died. 


A study released in 2006 by the University of Utah found that drivers talking on cell phones might as well be drunk. 


Study co-author Frank Drews said, "If legislators really want to address driver distraction, then they should consider outlawing cell phone use while driving." 


The study reinforced earlier research showing that hands-free cell phones are just as distracting as handheld cell phones because the conversation itself - not just manipulation of a handheld phone - distracts drivers from road conditions. 


The gal coming from the Huddle House was in another world. 


In Alabama you can drive a school bus full of kids and talk on your cell phone. Mississippi is one of 19 states that have outlawed it for school bus drivers. Nine states currently outlaw handheld cell phone use by drivers. Thirty-five states ban text messaging by drivers. 


Need more arguments for tougher laws? The following comes from a Nationwide Insurance website on driving and cell phone usage: 


-- Eight out of 10 drivers support some sort of restrictions on cell phone usage while driving. 


-- Drivers using cell phones are four times more likely to be involved in crashes that result in serious injury. 


-- Driving while distracted is a factor in 25 percent of police reported crashes. 


-- Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. 


Saturday afternoon I caught up with state Sen. Terry Brown who happened to be driving and talking on his cell phone while Christmas shopping. Brown was north of town on 45, and just after he told me he was going 65 mph, I lost him. Fearing the worst, I redialed his number. 


"I always hit a dead spot about there," the senator laughed. 


"About three years ago it became a front-and-center deal," Brown said about cell phone legislation. "We thought we were going to pass something, but no one could figure out how to enforce it." 


Brown says he does a lot of business by phone when driving to and from Jackson for Senate business. 


"Most of my business is handled when I'm driving. When I get to Jackson I have nonstop meetings. A law is going to put a burden on folks." 


Brown said Congress is looking at the issue and says he has no problem looking at the law. 


"The other day on the way to Jackson a little girl liked to run all over me," he said. "I could look down in her car and see her texting." 


Brown said if the law were changed he would obey it, noting that 20 years ago most of us didn't have cell phones. 


"Life is not so simple now," he said. 


Maybe so. But it's just as precious.


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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