Guest Editorial

Tuesday, April 8, 2003

A cell phone lament

A friend of mine and her family were recently involved in a car accident that took the life of her young and vital husband and left one of her daughters with a broken leg and the other one in an intensive care unit with severe head injures. The accident left my friend widowed at the age of 32 and the two girls fatherless at ages 8 and 9. Some of you may have heard about this tragic accident, which occurred near Windom, MN on March 23rd.

An oncoming vehicle veered into their lane of traffic, causing the collision. The individual lost control of the vehicle because his cell phone had fallen onto the floor of the vehicle and he was reaching down to try and retrieve it. He was not actually talking on the phone but nevertheless, a careless decision involving his cell phone was made.

The controversy over safety of cell phone use is certainly not a new issue. This is just a reminder to those who use cell phones while you are driving that you are creating a potentially dangerous situation. It would seem that the "hands free" cell phones are much less hazardous than the hand held ones and more and more people are making the switch in an effort to be a safer driver. Studies show that they do reduce the risk of accidents if the cell phone use of the driver remains the same. But drivers, thinking they are being safe, will tend to make more calls from their car and have more lengthy conversations, again increasing the risk of accidents. It's debatable to me whether either type should be legal to use while driving.

This caution will probably offend a good number of readers, since one out of ten Americans use cell phones, and a good number of those appear to worship them as if they were demi-gods.

We managed to live for generations without cell phones. In the "olden days" we just waited to make a call until we got home or returned to the office or work place. Or, if the call was very important, we'd pull over at the next phone booth we saw.

I will not deny the fact that, used in a safe way and with common sense, cell phones are very useful, practical and have saved lives.

But, unwise, reckless or unnecessary use of cell phones should not be tolerated, especially while driving. The few minutes you may lose when you pull over somewhere to make your call is certainly irrelevant compared to the potential risk of harm to others.

Thoughtless use of cell phones has and will continue to cause death and injury. But don't take my word for it. If you want more information and facts check out this web site: www.nhtsa.dot. gov/people/injury/research/wireless/. It's full of studies, statistics and laws in various parts of our country and the world.

On a less serious note, I often find cell phones annoying. Doesn't it seems that people always talk louder than normal on a cell phone? I personally don't care to clearly hear someone's "private" cell phone conversation while shopping, dining, working, etc. Many restaurants, auditoriums, theaters and churches are now asking those who are carrying a cell phone to have it checked in at the door. I rather like that idea.

And does anybody else find it incredibly rude when someone answers their cell phone while you are (or, um... were) engaged in a conversation with them? Then there are always the frivolous or unnecessary calls that could easily be made at a more appropriate time.

I also have to seriously wonder if some of the die-hard "cell phoners" aren't on a bit of an ego trip. I mean, are any of us so important that we need to be available to others 24-7?

Cell phones have become one of the most readily available and affordable status symbols of our time. What a boon for those who have a desire to look important. "Call me on my cell," has finally replaced "Let's do lunch," as the most often used phrase among the professional yuppies.

Please, before you decide to make a call while driving, ask yourself how important it really is. What really is that important is all of the human lives that may be lost because of a distracted driver.

I feel for the driver who caused the accident that killed my friend's husband. I imagine he is feeling a lot of guilt and probably will for a very long time. That can't be easy to live with.

But my heart aches and I shed tears for my friend who is so sweet and selfless and brave. She has suffered such an immense loss and has felt a grief so profound that most of us could not even imagine it. She spent the first four days after the accident at her older daughter's bedside, with virtually no sleep and continues to worry about her precarious condition.

Please also think of my friend and her daughters before you decide to make that next call from your car.

And remember to hug those who are dear to you often and tell them that you love them. You never know when you will have spoken your last word to them.

- Julie Baker is a Pilot-Tribune guest columnist from Alta.