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Please, for the Love of All Which is Holy, Get Off Your Cell Phone in the Car

texting

Image: IntelFreePress via Flickr

We have a law in Maryland: no hand-held cell phones in cars and no texting while driving.  I would personally love a simple no-cell-phones-in-cars law full stop.  No checking to see who called you while you’re at the traffic light, or just downloading your email quickly and scanning it to see if so-and-so wrote.  If it were up to me, I would even ban speaker phone conversations in cars (because yes, a conversation over the phone is different from having a conversation with someone who is in the car).  We have a personal rule of no cell phones in cars, and we ask that everyone who drives our kids refrains from using their phone while our kids are in their car.  But at the very least, I would love drivers to follow that bare minimum of the law: no hand-held cell phones and no texting while driving.

SO WHY DO I PASS PEOPLE DOING BOTH THESE THINGS DAILY?

I understand people are busy.  I understand that sometimes people want to multitask in the car and take care of two things at once, such as returning a call.  I know there are people who would never get a chance to speak to X, Y, and their friend, Z, if not for calling them during their commute.  I get that people are waiting for information, I get that people have kids somewhere and they’re worried that someone is trying to reach them because there is an emergency, I get that people are curious.

But even with all that, I would ask you to stop using your phone in the car.  Because no matter how well you think you balance it, you probably don’t.  Because all those people who drive around distractedly, who rear-end other people by accident, who merge poorly, who switch lanes without signaling, who sit there reading a text message after the light has changed instead of going — all those people — they think they can drive and use a phone at the same time too.  And clearly, they cannot.

Driving a car is a difficult task.  It is an enormous responsibility.  You take everyone else’s life in your hands when you get behind that wheel.

Please show care for the other people in this world and put aside the phone for the moments when you’re in the car.  Check it once you’ve parked, or pull over to the side of the road and call someone back.  Use those minute in between to focus on the road so we can all get from Point A to Point B.

You are an adult, and I can’t tell you what to do; only what I wish.  And I really wish that everyone would put down their phone the entire time they’re behind the wheel.

I’m sure there will be someone who will suck in their breath (or whatever the equivalent is to priming their fingers) and tell me about why they must use their cell phone in the car.  How I absolutely do not get how vital it is that they use their cell phone while driving.  That they’re only sending a quick text at a red light.  I don’t know how to respond to that, except to sum up this entire post with a single word: please.

22 comments

1 Mrs T (missohkay) { 11.07.13 at 10:05 pm }

I see it daily too and it scares me. I also drive under a sign that tells me how many driving fatalities we have per year in my city, and the number is staggering.

2 Jenn { 11.07.13 at 10:05 pm }

People drove cars long before cell phones were a thing, and they got along just fine. Most people using their phones while driving are catching up on Candy Crush or sending a non-urgent text. It goes along with the modern trend of having to do a million things at once, because that is how life moves. It is no excuse and completely unnecessary.

3 Blanche { 11.07.13 at 10:06 pm }

You forgot my favorite – those who go 10-15 miles below the speed limit because they are too busy talking and apparently can’t figure out their cruise control. I do talk on the speaker phone in the car (integrated system so I’m not out in a store talking to myself, hah!) while speeding between Points A and B so there’s only so much fuss I can make about it.

What concerns me also is the increase I’ve seen in the number of people wearing ear buds while driving. That really just seems unsafe to me because not only are they semi-insulated from outside noises by the car body, whatever is playing is going directly into the ear and blocking out even more of the external sounds. I want to say this has been since the introduction of the iPhone since they are mostly white ear buds, but that could be a coincidence.

4 a { 11.07.13 at 10:21 pm }

Infrequently, guilty as charged, but I do try to use the voice feature. 🙁 We did just get a car with bluetooth, which is good for my husband who is guilty more frequently. On the plus side, we’re not in the car that much.

Distracted driving is not restricted to cell phones. Makeup, shaving, reading – everyone is multi-tasking. And what’s funny is that I was rear-ended a couple years ago by a guy who simply failed to notice that I was stopped in front of him. Since I saw it coming, I could see that he wasn’t distracted by anything tangible. Can’t say what was in his mind, though.

Anyway, I don’t try to refute your plea. I recognize both that it is a problem and that it will be extremely difficult to get people to change.

5 Alexicographer { 11.07.13 at 10:59 pm }

Thank you, Mel. It is frightening. I don’t much entrust other people to drive my child around yet (though I have had to yell at even close family members about this issue) and am puzzling over how I am going to manage this when I do (it is one thing to issue the request and another to have it be honored). My mother had to deal with insisting that we kids wear seatbelts in other people’s cars back in the day (a radical idea at the time), but at least that was the sort of thing that could be done once at the start of a drive and then left alone.

And if I could get my son to 16 knowing that no sensible person we trust would ever under any circumstances use a phone while driving, I’d count myself an absurdly lucky woman. Let’s not forget, one not-so-distant day the kids we are shepherding around will be the ones behind the wheel, and best-case, they’ll follow the example we’ve set for them. They’re certainly not going to exercise better judgment than we have modeled.

6 Juanita { 11.08.13 at 4:02 am }

I wish this with you Mel. Commuting on our Cape Town highways during the dark wet winter is a feat in itself and then adding reckless drivers glued to their cellphones into the mix is just a recipe for disaster. Sadly, most of them actually believe that they are capable to drive and talk/text/play games or whatever, as they are actually unaware of how the other people on the road are trying to manage driving near them. They should bring out cars that block cell phone reception once the engine starts.

7 Tiara { 11.08.13 at 4:38 am }

Wishing this too!! It’s so scary when you see someone drive erraticly & more often than not you see the have a cell in their hands.

8 Mali { 11.08.13 at 6:11 am }

I am with you 100% on this. In Italy recently, every time we saw a driver driving dangerously, extra slowly on an autostrada, or weaving over the road, or speeding up then slowing down, it was always a driver on their cellphone, and worse, texting. The thing is, they say that driving whilst talking on a cellphone is equivalent to driving drunk. The distraction and bravado is that significant. I don’t care if someone puts themselves at risk. But the problem is, by ding this, they put us all at risk.

9 Kasey { 11.08.13 at 8:03 am }

As someone who works in Emergency Medical Services people truly should hang up their phones and wait. There are far too many people not paying attention causing accidents that are 100% preventable. Just this week a tractor trailor driver ran a red light crashing into multiple cars and killing someone. There is only one way you miss a red light- distraction. I may not have been a cell phone in that case, but whatever it was he missed it and caused injury and heartache to many people. I agree 100% put the cell phones down, stop eating and driving, stop talking and driving, some doing makeup and driving- there is one thing you should be doing when driving- PAYING attention- driving and driving..

10 Pepper { 11.08.13 at 8:26 am }

So with you on this. I admit I was guilty of this until I had my daughter and realized how stupid I was being. I struggle with how to address this with others who drive my daughter in the future. She has never driven alone with anyone except my husband and myself. We have on a handful of occasions both been in a car with another driver. But what about as she gets older? I am non-confrontational by nature but this is something which truly concerns me.

11 loribeth { 11.08.13 at 9:03 am }

Totally & completely with you, Mel. (@Mali: I recently heard a study that found that texting while driving can be even WORSE than driving while drunk. :p ) There are laws against talking & texting while driving here, but people seem to completely ignore them, and they sure don’t seem to be enforced. :p Granted, that’s probably all the police would wind up doing. And the penalties are pretty laughably low.

I don’t know what it’s going to take to make people change their behaviour. And the scary thing for me is, while it’s bad enough right now, many of the people driving around & talking/texting didn’t grow up with cellphones glued to their hands like today’s kids have. It’s hard enough to pry the phones away from them as it is right now — so how do we get them to put the damned phone down once they start driving??

Very scary.

12 Catwoman73 { 11.08.13 at 9:28 am }

I’m with you on this one, too. I wonder what these incredibly busy people did 15-20 years ago, before cell phones? How on earth did they survive, not being able to make a phone call from their cars? I think that if these people took a hard look at what they are doing, they would realize that there’s almost nothing that can’t wait until the car is safely parked somewhere.

13 meghan { 11.08.13 at 9:39 am }

It was just the time last year when I pulled up to a red light and Sophie said “this is a long light mommy, if you want to check your phone I’ll tell you when it’s green” She was so sweet about it, not snarky like an adult would have been but it was a major reality check. And that day I decided to put my phone in my glove box while driving. It was SO hard at first, it really is an addiction but now I don’t miss it very much. Our new car does have Bluetooth though and I will sometimes take a call…or call in a take out order but I try to avoid it. I’m amazed at the number of people who try to do work calls on their way into or home from work. I know that traffic around here is terrible but how much attention are you paying to driving or to the call? I’d rather do one thing well than 2 things badly

14 Katie { 11.08.13 at 11:00 am }

After watching this video earlier in the year, I no longer touch my phone while I’m driving. It horrified me: http://youtu.be/_BqFkRwdFZ0

15 Lori Lavender Luz { 11.08.13 at 1:16 pm }

Guilty.

And chastened.

16 Collette { 11.08.13 at 4:12 pm }

I don’t use my cell phone in the car. We do have a speaker phone in the car and I use it but rarely and quickly–say I’m going to pick my husband up after work and I’m telling him we’re 5 minutes away.

My son and I sometimes ride our bikes to school. A couple weeks ago, some doofus was a) on his phone (also illegal here in Illinois since it’s a hands-free only state) and b) turning right on red where there is a No Turn on Red sign. We of course were coming from the right so he never even saw us. Fortunately, I’m hyper aware of those things so we were very careful and crossed behind him (making eye contact with the driver of the car behind to ensure that at least they saw us).

He had his window open and I yelled at him to get off his phone. Dumbass started screaming at me. Frankly, if my son hadn’t been there, the words would’ve been flying and I probably would’ve turned around to yell as him some more. So wrong on many levels and not what I want to show my son. But people are seriously clueless. I’ve been hit by a taxi in that same No Turn on Red situation. Sigh.

Thanks for the plea. I’m with you.

17 Collette { 11.08.13 at 4:14 pm }

Wait, not a hands-free state yet (Jan 1) but Chicago has been hands-free for a while. I felt the need to clarify just in case you’re driving around here. 😉

18 Turia { 11.08.13 at 4:41 pm }

I am with you, 100%. It’s been reported in the news up here that “distracted driving” (i.e. caused by mobiles) is now causing more deaths than “impaired driving”. Macleans had a very good editorial saying we need to make talking on mobile phones while driving as socially abhorrent as getting behind the wheel drunk.

There are many, many studies out there that prove that handsfree isn’t safer, and that a phone conversation is not the same as talking to someone who is sitting next to you in the car. I honestly think all mobile phone use by drivers should be banned.

We don’t own a car, so we drive out of the city quite rarely, but when we do, it is very easy to identify the cars with the drivers who are texting.

It is really scary, and I just wonder how many more people have to die before the laws and the penalties will get tough enough to make people start listening.

19 Battynurse { 11.09.13 at 4:56 am }

You’re right. It’s not worth it. Ever. I’m guilty ya times of thinking just this once and answering my phone although I try to get right back off ASAP. And yes I’ve checked my phone at a stop light but you’re right. There’s no excuse and NOTHING that is so important it can’t wait a few minutes til I pull over or get where I’m going.
It also relates to a pet peeve of mine. California has a similar law,no hand held or texting. I see people all the time with their phone set to speaker and holding it out in front of their face. This does not qualify as hands free, even if you manage to have both hands on the steering wheel.

20 Mrs4444 { 11.09.13 at 10:55 am }

No one can justify using a phone in the car to text or check email; it’s inexcusable. I recently found myself following someone who was obviously texting and driving. Her business name was stenciled on her car, so I found her website online and sent a message, shaming her for driving like that. She replied first with an “oh, it wasn’t what you think, but thanks” email. Hours later, she followed that up with a huge BS story about how a mouse was in her vehicle, and that’s why she was driving so poorly. She added that she hoped I didn’t say anything bad about her business. I wish she had just owned up. Hopefully, my message has had an impact on her.

21 Sara { 11.09.13 at 4:09 pm }

Thank you. I couldn’t agree more. There is no excuse. None.

22 Charles { 11.09.13 at 5:59 pm }

I definitely agree, no cell phones in cars. I think they should invent some sort of device that turns off cell phones as soon as the car starts.

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