This is an issue that frequently comes up in the Digest. Here is an
opinion from an expert (expert in the sense that his PhD is in a
related field). It also updates us on the way the courts may well
affect the way we will be forced to use the portable telephone.
There has been one recent case of an attorney in Virginia (not a
plaintiff-friendly state) who was forced to pay very large damages as
a result of an accident judged to be caused by her use of a cell phone
while driving. Her employer had to pay much of the damage award, which
will cause that employer to develop a policy, just as many employers
have policies on picking up hitchhikers, or on the type of insurance
policy you must have when driving on "company business."
Can you hear me now?
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
<http://www.appliedpsychology.com> 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
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
plaintiffs 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
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.
January 26, 2005
Terry Riley, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., is a corporate psychologist
specializing in the management of travel behavior. Terry is the author of
"Travel Can Be Murder" and "The Complete Travel Diet." He also edits
<http://www.travelfox.com> Travel Fox, a satirical news report.
<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>E<mailto:email@example.com> -mail Terry or
<http://www.appliedpsychology.com> visit his Web site.
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http://telecom-digest.org/td-extra . New articles daily.
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