STATE REPRESENTATIVE
PAUL C. CASEY

Room 473-B
State House
Boston, MA 02133
Telephone: (617) 722-2230
District Office
585A Main St.
Winchester, MA 01890
Telephone: (617) 721-7285 or (617) 438-7185

A View from the Hill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 5, 2000
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240

SOMETIMES TALK IS NOT SO CHEAP

If you ever want to get a good laugh during your morning commute, discreetly glance over to the car next to you while stopped in traffic. Someone will be reading a newspaper- maybe even clipping out coupons. Someone will be performing the brave task of trying to take the first sip of hot coffee while edging forward a few feet on the Expressway. And last, but certainly not least, someone will be hastily applying the finishing touches of makeup before the light changes from red to green (this would explain the mysterious lipstick on the forehead phenomenon).

With the hectic lifestyles that we lead nowadays, we have less time than ever to attend to necessities of life. By squeezing work, family, friends, and other activities into one small space, we will eventually have to cut corners as one thing "spills" over into another. But there are some domains that must be kept free from outside interferences, some activities in which corners can never be cut. Driving is one of them.

When we are in an automobile, we put our lives, and the lives of others, in our own hands. One invisible patch of ice, sudden bend in the road, or abrupt stop can bring tragedy within the blink of an eye. It takes less than 2 seconds for a child to chase after a ball that has rolled out into the street, but it takes more than 45 feet for a car traveling at 20 m.p.h. to come to a complete stop- and that's with perfect road conditions.

In the words of Winchester Safety Officer Kevin Mawn, "People think that you just step on the brakes and the car stops. The reality is that in the half-second it takes for a person to react, the car can travel several feet." Those few feet can mean the difference between life and death for the unfortunate individual in the path of one's car. The combination of slow reaction time, large stopping distance, and other variables like slippery road conditions dispel the theory of the "instant stop." For this reason, it is crucial to be completely alert and attentive to the road at all times.

Unfortunately, this advice seems to be given more than it is followed. When I am driving, I often see motorists engaging in dangerous behavior such as changing CDs "on the fly," reading road maps, and fumbling for things in the back seat while traveling at speeds in excess of 65 m.p.h. Such individuals are simply begging for disaster to come, especially those who mix driving with perhaps the worst distraction of all: talking on a cell phone.

Driver inattention is responsible for 1 out of 4 automobile accidents and cell phone utilization is vying to boost this figure even more! Cell phone usage is substantially different than other distractions because a phone call can occupy a driver's attention for an average of 2.5 minutes. During this time, over 2.7 miles of roadway cane be traversed at 65 m.p.h. If we consider how deadly momentary distractions can be in just a 50 foot stretch of road, we can imagine what can happen in 3 minutes over a 3 mile stretch of road! Now multiply that number by how many phone calls the person makes.

Police officers, government officials, and safety organizations around the country have voiced their concerns about people using cell phones while driving. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that the distraction caused by phone use in motor vehicles quadrupled the risk of a collision during the call, which is equivalent to the rate caused by intoxication. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency responsible for safety conditions on our roads, concurs. These basic studies complement the frightening everyday experiences we all have with careless drivers who fly through traffic lights, crosswalks, and stop signs without even noticing it.

In light of such a perilous situation, state legislators across the nation have filed bills concerning cell phone usage in one form or another. Oklahoma and Minnesota, for example, have required police to record cell phone usage on accident reports. Such a practice is a positive starting step because it enables lawmakers to understand the scope of the problem before they take any final regulatory action.

Other states, including our own, have legislation pending that would prohibit the use of cell phones in cars completely. This action may be a little extreme considering the benefits of having a cell phone in the car. People with cell phones often report drunk drivers and car accidents to the police. In 1996 alone, cell phone users placed over 2.8 million emergency calls. A cell phone can be a valuable tool in many circumstances.

In crafting legislation to regulate cell phones, we must draw the line between what is "necessary" and what is "convenient," permitting some practices and outlawing others. Calling to report an accident is one thing; calling to say "hi" is a completely different ballgame. Even with emergency situations, however, there are few times when it is actually "necessary" for a person to use a phone while in the process of operating a motor vehicle. Most emergency calls can and should be made from the side of the road, and if these calls can be made while stopped, people can certainly pull over to ask "what's for dinner."

Each new occurrence of dangerous driving resulting from cell phone usage only brings the practice one step closer to regulation. When weighing the so-called "rights" of cell phone users with human life, we remind ourselves that driving itself is a privilege, not a right. Therefore, driving with a cell phone is really a privilege on top of a privilege- and it is something that we can put an end to if there is too much recklessness and not enough responsibility applied to the "mix." While the idea of limiting or restricting cell phone usage might be unpopular for some, the thought of innocent lives being destroyed from reckless and abhorrent behavior is motivation enough for legislators to take a stand and do something.

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