Cellphones and driving. We are all sick of hearing about the combination. But let’s face it – a very large number of drivers can’t operate an automobile when they’re NOT talking on a cellphone (or putting on makeup, or reading a book[!], or eating a cheeseburger, or any of the myriad other multi-tasking operations they may think they’re capable of), let alone having to hold a phone to their ear in one hand, steer with the other, beat the kids with the third, keep the dog from jumping out the window with the fourth, slurp down a Big Gulp with the fifth… you get the idea.

Many states have downright outlawed talking on a cellphone while driving, or at the very least placed serious restrictions on the practice. From the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website on Cellphone Laws ( latest version dated October 2010 – an interesting table of the various combinations of what you can and can’t do vis-à-vis cars and cellphones):

A jurisdiction-wide ban on driving while talking on a hand-held cellphone is in place in 9 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah, and Washington) and the District of Columbia. Utah has named the offense careless driving. Under the Utah law, no one commits an offense when speaking on a cellphone unless they are also committing some other moving violation other than speeding.

Local jurisdictions may or may not need specific state statutory authority to ban cellphones or text messaging. Several of the many localities that have enacted restrictions on cellphone use include: Oahu, HI; Chicago, IL; Brookline, MA; Detroit, MI; Santa Fe, NM; Brooklyn, North Olmstead, and Walton Hills, OH; Conshohocken, Lebanon, and West Conshohocken, PA; Waupaca County, WI; and Cheyenne, WY.

The use of all cellphones while driving a school bus is prohibited in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

The use of all cellphones by novice drivers is restricted in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 30 states and the District of Columbia. In addition, novice drivers are banned from texting in 8 states (Alabama, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia) and school bus drivers are banned from text messaging in 2 states (Oklahoma and Texas).

IMNSHO, it should be quite simple.

Rule 1 – No texting while the vehicle is in motion. Period. I won’t accept that your horrific misspellings are blamed on “Im drivng, so pls parden my speeling.” You can’t spell any better with a copy of Webster’s sitting in your lap. Until such time as Dragon Naturally Speaking comes out with a flawless version of their voice-to-text software (it’s good, but it’s not that good), you will have to do your texting out of the vehicle.

“Why can’t I just text when I’m at a stoplight?” Because, you cavernously-void-craniod, you will inevitably get absorbed in your conversation, your chubby little digits attempting to tell your buddies at which Burger King to meet for lunch (not the one by the gentleman’s club, the other one). You will look up only after the green light is ¾ through the cycle. Eleven cars have already pulled away ahead of you, and you blurt out “Oh sh*t” and slam on the accelerator, barely making it through the yellow light – leaving those drivers unlucky enough to pull up behind you during storytime stalled through yet another red light. You are a jerk. And dangerous, even when sitting still.

Rule 2 – get a headset. Period (I know, the use of the word/sentence “Period.” should mean that the previous statement requires no further explanation – but as I’m targeting those nincompoopers who are infracting the previously-referenced state laws, I figured I’d have to put some more explanation behind the obvious).

The biggest problem with talking on a cellphone while driving is that you have to concentrate not only on your conversation (and mouth-breathing, and remembering to blink occasionally), but on keeping the phone (or handheld device, as laid out in the various aforementioned – I love that word, aforementioned – state laws; presumably, a handheld device could be a cellphone, an iPad, an iPod, a laptop, a death ray, a cigarette-lighter-powered vibrator, etc.) close enough to your ear and mouth/jaw so that you can hear what your fellow infractioner is saying, and vice versa.

A headset alleviates that problem, and as far as I have been able to ascertain, there are no laws yet that prevent a driver from talking into an aural device. As far as a law enforcement official would be concerned, you could be just singing along to your Air Supply CD (though this certainly falls under numerous national and international illegalities). Or, having a conversation with one of your multiple personalities – again, cause for concern, but no violation of civil law.

Plantronics Voyager PRO

Being a gadget geek (in addition to geeking on multiple other levels), I always do extensive research on the best headset to buy. I would recommend visiting CNET for the latest and greatest in any hardware (or software). I’ve gone through numerous Bluetooth headsets/earpieces through the years, each one an improvement over the last, whether better volume at my end, dramatic wind-noise reduction at the other end, etc. Today’s recommendation, if you had to buy just one? Plantronics Voyager PRO+ (click HERE for a list of places to buy one, with pricing). In fact, while writing this entry, I ran across CNET’s latest update on the Best Bluetooth Headsets, with the Plantronics receiving 4 stars out of 5 – on par with the 4 others on their list of the best of the best.

Bang & Olufsen

Bang & Olufsen certainly makes a nice one – and oddly cool looking – though it sits on top of that ear flap (Anti tragus A projection of the auricle of the ear posterior to the tragus, for you ENT freaks out there), instead of plugging into the ear canal (the ONLY way I can decently hear someone else talking at the other end).

You could also buy a vehicle with built-in SYNC capabilities. More and more cars have this feature, allowing you to pair up your Bluetooth phone with the car itself. You can then simply say “Call Hot Redhead Chick” (provided you have a hot redheaded chick so listed in your contacts list), and the car does all the work. It further eliminates the problem that exists even if you do use a headset – finding a number in your address book and/or dialing a number manually.

Classic horrific example? Driving to Macy’s and trying to determine how much credit you still have left on your AMEX. You have to pull your credit card out of your wallet, as you don’t have the number pre-programmed into your phone.

So…

  • Problem 1 – fumbling through your wallet to find the correct card.
  • Problem 2 – reading the ludicrously-small customer service number on the back of said card, which is further complicated by the fact that they have chosen to emboss your account number directly on top of the aforementioned (!) customer service number.
  • Problem 3 – you have to dial in that 10 digit number.
  • Problem 4 – you have to punch in whether or not English is your native language… grrrrrr…
  • Problem 5 – you then have to key in your 15-digit account number, which you don’t have memorized, and so you have to read it from the face of the card – hey, I wonder what’s happening in traffic? Oh sh*t, I missed the light.
  • Problem 6 – you keyed in one number wrong, so you have to re-read and re-enter the number.
  • Problem 7 – you then have to listen to and choose which department you want to talk to.
  • Problem 8 – you have to key in your PIN.
  • Problem 9 – you have to tell the automated system that you want to check your balance.

That’s a lot of problems just to go buy a new purse at Macy’s. Somewhere in the middle of all those problems you’ve likely clipped the paperboy out making his rounds (he’s running seriously late this morning), caused a number of blood pressure medication dosage increases while missing green lights, and hopefully not killed too many pedestrians.

So, as I said, we’re all tired of hearing those PSAs about texting-and-talking while driving. In this case, the cause is well justified – you might end up killing someone I care about [or worse, ME], because you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

  1. Don’t text while inside a vehicle, unless you’re a passenger. Ever!
  2. Get a headset.

Problem solved.

DW

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