The Washington Times - June 30, 2008, 07:04AM

 

The cell phone problem

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The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association tells us that there are currently more than 255 million cell phone subscribers in the US. Add to that the millions using pay-as-you-go cell phones such as Tracfone and it seems that the only people without wireless phones are three year-olds.

The federal government estimates that at any given moment 745,000 vehicles are being driven by people using hand-held phones on US roadways. This isn’t a good thing, as anyone who has been delayed, cut off or nearly hit by a clueless driver talking on his/her phone can tell you. The problem is even worse with teenagers. Not only are crashes far more prevalent among young drivers (due mostly to inexperience) but teens are the very population segment that is virtually addicted to cell phones. When’s the last time you saw a teenager without a phone to his/her ear?

What we have here is a genuine safety crisis, and one that has no easy solution. The Australians did a study of the issue and found that cell phone users are four times as likely to get into a crash as those not gabbing on one. The Canadians did the same sort of study and found the same risk. Europeans are studying the matter as well and are finding similar statistics. In this country we’re studying the situation too, but only in a half-hearted way because ours is a government run not by the people but by business. In this case the telecommunications lobby will not only make sure that any studies are minimized; it will surely keep itself immune from liability.

Maybe that’s a good thing, because cell phone use is strictly under the control of the user. Most of us have used a phone while driving and this sort of activity is excusable in situations such as emergencies or while sitting in traffic. It’s just plain dangerous in any other situation, however, and more and more crashes are going to result from the habit.

Two things can be done to minimize the problem. For one, we can forbid teenagers to use phones while driving and take their licenses away if they get caught. It won’t take long for the word to get out. The other thing is a bit more drastic, but I think it’s something that needs to be done. If you get hit by someone talking on a cell phone, file a lawsuit for punitive damages against the driver. It’s a shame that we have to resort to litigation, but sometimes the only way to fix people’s bad habits is to hit them in the wallet.