Essay : DUI...of cell phone
Lauren Folino's observations last week ("Times reporter sees cell phone distraction in action") brought to mind a recent encounter of my own with one of the cellularly challenged. As I was driving down Beach Street toward Five Corners, a young woman in an SUV ran the stop sign at the end of Water Street, cutting me off. She was talking on a cell phone and making what is sometimes called a "Boston left' - following the car ahead of her, which had stopped at the stop sign, without herself bothering to stop - onto Beach Road.
This sort of thing is so common, at least in August, that I wouldn't have paid it much attention, but she happened to be headed for the same place I was - The Times parking lot. When we had both parked, I told her, quite gently I think, that she had cut me off. She admitted that she had run the stop sign, but denied that she could have cut me off. "I'm always very aware of the cars around me," she said confidently.
I suggested that perhaps holding a cell phone to the right side of her face might have obstructed her view of cars coming from that direction. She had clearly not been "very aware" of me, and I had had to brake hard.
I think this driver's confidence explains the epidemic of talking-while-driving that my friends have been complaining about in the past few months. The yakkers think they are such good drivers that talking on a cell phone is no problem.
My friends and I notice in particular an astonishing percentage of people who talk on a cell phone as they are pulling out of a parking space, driveway, or lot. I imagine they're saying, "I'm just leaving suchandsuch now, and I'll be with you in a few minutes." Whatever they are really saying, it wouldn't cost much time to say it before they have to navigate pedestrians, bicycles, and other cars to get out into traffic, a task that involves maximum attention. The time saved is surely minimal.
I've always been annoyed by tailgaters (see "If you can read this . . ."; The Times, Aug. 15, 2002). Now the pinheads pull up so close that I can see that they are talking on a cell phone while they're tailgating. On the way to the airport this week, an Adamcab was so close I could see the driver's lips move. Tailgating didn't get him to his fare any faster, because there was no opportunity to pass me, and talking with his dispatcher (or whoever) just made the whole event even more dangerous than tailgating alone.
Drivers who talk on either handheld or hands-free cellular phones are as impaired as drunken drivers with a 0.08 blood alcohol concentration, according to experimental research conducted by Drs. Frank Drews, David Strayer, and Dennis L. Crouch of the University of Utah. But like the confident young woman who cut me off at Five Corners, the talkers don't realize that they are impaired and putting themselves and the rest of us at risk.