Please Talk Safely

Drivers face many distractions in the car -- lunch on-the-go, kids in the back seat, changing radio stations or choosing a new song from their iPods. Yet despite this, wireless phones get a bad rap as a distraction to drivers. What goes underreported is the fact that while the use of mobile phones might play a hand in some accidents, mobile phones are also frequent lifesavers, helping summon help in emergencies far quicker than would otherwise be possible. The fact is that whatever might distract you during driving, whether it's looking at pretty girls or arguing with your spouse, is a danger. So always remember that safety is your first responsibility behind the wheel. If you decide to use a mobile phone while driving, do it correctly. That means using a wireless phone wisely, and recognizing when it's not the appropriate time to make a call.

What are the wrong times to make a mobile call? Times when extra concentration on driving is required -- in heavy traffic, bad weather, unfamiliar territory, or when the conversation might be stressful or emotional. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to never talk to your wife or children while driving.

While some safety experts have called for a complete ban on mobile phone use when driving, we have heard of no groundswell of support for a ban on talking with your passengers, listening to music or eating a cheeseburger while at the wheel. Instead, we suggest that you understand that talking on a mobile phone when driving can distract you from the important task at hand -- piloting your vehicle safely. With that understanding, it is also worth considering the lessons of the wireless industry's educational campaign "Safety: Your Most Important Call."

The Wireless Association offers its top 10 tips for driving safely with a wireless phone:

1. Get to know your wireless phone's features, such as speed dial and voice activation. Further, learn those features and how to use them safely and effortlessly before you try to use them behind the wheel of your car.

2. Use a hands-free device. While not a panacea, a hands-free device can help you maintain solid control of your vehicle by allowing you to steer with both hands. Because this device is so inexpensive, it's almost inexcusable NOT to use it.

3. Position your wireless phone within easy reach of your driving position before you get your vehicle underway. Reaching for a ringing phone in a briefcase located in the backseat is an invitation for disaster.

4. Let voicemail take your call if you can't reach your phone or if you are driving in difficult conditions. Remember, just because it rings doesn't mean you have to answer it.

5. Let the person you are speaking with know that you are driving. It is not rude but actually very prudent to suspend your call if necessary.

6. Dial your phone sensibly. Dialing lengthy numbers while traveling at freeway speeds can expose you and those around you to deadly dangers. Instead, place calls when stopped or before pulling into traffic.

7. Do not engage in stressful or emotional conversations while driving. This holds true whether these conversations take place on the phone or with another passenger.

8. Dial 9-1-1 or other local emergency numbers to help others or yourself. The phone can be a lifesaving tool, helping you to guide help to emergency situations.

9. Do not look up phone numbers or take notes while driving. 

10. Realize there are times you should not call while driving, like in hazardous weather conditions, heavy traffic or on unfamiliar roadways.

Driving Today contributor Tom Ripley is based in Villeperce, France, where he studies international automotive trends, safety advances, brunettes, and the human condition.