Cell phones and driving

I’ve been working on one of my pet projects lately — writing a guide to sharing the road with trucks.  In my million+ safe  OTR miles, I’ve seen a lot of drivers do some really dangerous things around trucks.  I don’t think there are that many suicidal people on the roads (although the economy might be increasing those numbers), so I’m operating on the theory that they’re simply uninformed.  While there are a number of sites with some information on sharing the road, I’m going to take a slightly different approach.  My plan is to tell you not just that some particular behaviour is dangerous, but also why it’s dangerous.  So far, I have a list of about 28(!) common dangerous behaviours gleaned from experience and other sources.

Since it’s taking so long to get it all written up, I thought I’d post something about one of the things on my list on an occasional basis until I get enough time to get the whole thing done.

I’d initially like to discuss cell phones and driving.  While it’s not #1 on the hit parade (pun intended), it is #2, and a particular pet peeve of mine.  First, I’d like to explain that it’s not the act of holding a cell phone while driving — it’s the cognitive workload.  This means that hands-free headsets, speakerphones, and the like don’t help.  In fact, studies have shown that using a cell phone impairs driving performance to the point where it’s roughly the same as driving while legally intoxicated.  In an ideal world, all cell phone use by drivers would be banned, the same way we have laws against drinking and driving.  Everybody has become so addicted to their phones (including and maybe especially those who make the laws) that I think it’s unlikely to happen.  I think the best that is likely to happen would be the exercise of some common sense in using phones while on the road.

If you just HAVE to be on that cell phone while you’re driving, at least try to follow some of these rules.  Following them will NOT make it safe to use a cell phone, but maybe at least cut the collision rate and the severity of those that do happen.

  • Don’t text while driving.  Ever.

Both the cognitive and physical workload involved in texting is simply too high to allow anything even resembling safe operation of a vehicle.  So, you should never do it, for any reason.  Pull off in a safe and legal parking space and do your texting from there.

  • In construction zones, and around pedestrians (particularly children) hang up, and call back later.

Construction zones are far more dangerous than most drivers realize. Lanes end suddenly, or are shifted with little warning.  Pedestrians, and especially children are often unpredictable, and can appear suddenly.  Hang up.  No call is worth killing someone.

  • If possible, let your voicemail get the call.

A quick glance at your caller ID can usually tell you if it’s urgent or not.  If it’s really important, they’ll try calling you again anyway.

  • When you’re merging into traffic, either end the call, or at least say “hold on a minute” and stop talking.

Merging into traffic, particularly onto a high speed highway, requires your FULL attention. You need to be off that call as soon as you get onto the ramp, so you can get the full picture of surrounding traffic and merge safely.

  • If you’re in heavy traffic, don’t try to dial a call.

Dialing a call markedly increases the workload, and usually requires you to take your eyes off the road for a significant period of time.  Even in slow, backed up rush hour traffic, a moment’s inattention can end up with you rear-ending the vehicle in front of you.  This goes double around on-ramps.

  • When on the phone, increase your following distance.

The usual rule of thumb for following distance for cars is a minimum of two seconds from the vehicle ahead.  When you’re on a call, you should increase this to a minimum of four seconds, and six to eight would be even better.  While you’re talking, it’s going to take more time to react to any sudden situation.  Let me get all Einsteinian on you here — space is equivalent to time. The more space you have, the more time you have to react.

  • If you have to dial a call while driving, don’t do it on a curve. Do it in the right lane, on a straight section, away from on-ramps

Even if the curve is some distance ahead, you’ll be in that curve shortly.  You’re much more likely to drift out of your lane then.  On-ramps are a particular problem. A car can easily get in front of you between glances — and is likely to be going slower than you are.  On a straight section, if you drift out of your lane, there’s a 50% chance that you’ll drift right — and then (hopefully) the rumble strips will alert you to the fact.

The above rules are primarily oriented to highway driving.  If you’re on a city street, pull off into a safe and legal parking space and do your talking there.  There are generally so many possible places for a car to park (even in a city) that there’s no excuse for not doing it.  Better yet, wait until you get to your destination.

Above all, exercise common sense and restraint when it comes to cell phones and driving.  The life you save may be your own.

Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome.

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2 comments so far

  1. emma on

    Excellent post! I hope it will make people more aware

  2. colin on

    Very well written post. I consider myself to be a heads up driver who is ALWAYS aware of my surroundings, yet I do, unfortunately, do some of these bad practices on occasion. Next time I find myself in one of those situation, I will stop and think about this post. Thanks for writing it…


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