The Other Side of Cell Phone Safety

Lately there has been a lot of talk about the dangers of cellular telephone use in automobiles. The state of New York recently required that cell phone callers use a hands-free device or risk citation, while others are calling for even greater restrictions including the complete ban on cell phone use while driving. Certainly, there are compelling reasons to look long and hard at cellular telephones in automobiles, but critics of the devices might be overlooking an important fact: properly used, a cell phone can be a crucial safety tool.

No one knows this better than Steven Wayne Elmore. Two years ago, Elmore and his entire family were nearly killed when a drunk driver struck them. Then, this past October, his heart sank when he realized he was driving behind a car that was swerving erratically, and he became even more alarmed as he watched the driver toss a beer bottle out of the window.

Not wanting another tragedy to strike, Elmore grabbed his wireless phone, dialed 911 and was connected with the police. The 911 operator asked Elmore to describe the car and also to stay with the vehicle to relay location points. Minutes later, the police pulled behind the drunk driver and ordered him to the side of the road. The call Elmore made on his wireless phone may have prevented the injury or death of several individuals that night.

Elmore's emergency call was not an isolated incident. In fact, the volume of emergencies reported by wireless phones is mind-boggling. Every day, nearly 140,000 such calls are placed. That's 96 calls per minute.

One key to safe use of cellular phones while driving is individual responsibility. The driver should take a commonsense approach to the use of a wireless phone and err on the side of caution when in doubt.

If you are going to place a call while you are driving, ask yourself, "Is this the right time to make a call?" And, "Will this call distract me from my primary responsibility to drive safely?"

If, after answering these questions, you decide that a call while driving is appropriate and safe, follow these basic dos and don'ts:
  • Let the person you are talking with know you're driving
  • Keep the call short
  • Use a hands-free device and speed dial to place calls
  • Never take notes or look up phone numbers while driving
  • Never use your phone in heavy traffic or hazardous conditions
  • Let voicemail pick-up if you have any concerns about the safety of answering the phone
Remember when you are driving an automobile, your primary responsibility is to drive that vehicle safely. Each time you slip behind the wheel, the lives of others are dependent upon the decisions you make. Wireless telephones used while driving can be safe...and in some instances they can even save lives. Don't let your phone be an excuse to drive irresponsibly; make it a reason to drive safely and intelligently at all times.


The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), an international association for the wireless telecommunications industry, contributed information to this story.

Luigi Fraschini, a Cleveland-based automotive journalist, has written many pieces on auto safety.