Can you hear me now?

by Terry Riley on January 26, 2005

Do you carry a cell phone when you travel? I’m guessing you do. I do.

And why not? They are great little devices that give us near-instant access to assistance almost wherever we go. But there are times — lots of times — when you should avoid making or receiving calls on your cell phone: Specifically, when you are behind the
wheel.

I have been waiting patiently on the sidelines thinking I wouldn’t have to wade into the debate over using a cell phone while driving. However, after nearly being mowed down last week by a guy talking on his cell phone while driving, I can wait no longer.

This is one topic on which I can truly speak as an expert. My doctoral
dissertation was on the topic of human attention, and although I did the research over three decades ago, the ability of people to split their attention between tasks hasn’t evolved a scintilla.

The chief problem with using your cell phone while driving is not dialing the numbers or holding the phone (though those activities can contribute to unsafe driving). No, the overriding problem is dividing your attention between carrying on a conversation with someone removed from your traffic environment and safely operating a speeding mass of metal.

Studies show pretty convincingly that factors affecting driving performance are more significantly degraded while talking on a cell phone than while listening to the radio or while talking to others in the car. What’s worse is that the degradation in driving performance is exacerbated for travelers who are in unfamiliar vehicles (e.g., rental cars) in unfamiliar environments (e.g., away from home).

So without getting into the details of those studies — which any plaintiff’s attorney can easily find — suffice it to say that companies that do not have policies which prohibit employees from making or receiving business calls while driving are opening themselves up to liability risk.

Perhaps it will take some driver (a female teenage driver is a likely
candidate) to fly through a school zone and wipe out a half dozen kids while talking to her friend (who is also on her cell phone zipping around in another part of town). Then maybe do-nothing legislatures will finally open their eyes to the science that is foretelling of the danger of using cell phones while driving, and they will do something.

In the meantime, if you are a trial lawyer, give me a call (not from your car, please). There may be big money just waiting to be had from head-in-the-sand companies with no cell phone use rules in place.

I smell big bucks.

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