- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 18, 2000

Our lives have never been busier, and "multi-tasking" has become less an art form than a necessity. However, a car is not the place to multi-task at least not when it comes to making phone calls.

The burgeoning popularity of cell phones, and the widespread use of these devices by motorists has become a significant safety problem. According to a 1997 study done by the New England Journal of Medicine, a driver is four times more likely to be involved in an accident if he is using a cell phone while the vehicle is in motion. Accident data compiled by the federal government's Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) indicates a similar relationship.

Many countries restrict or forbid the use of hand-held cell phones including Israel, Australia, Japan and Chile. In the United States, however, restrictions on cell phone use while operating a motor vehicle are few and far between. Neither Virginia, nor Maryland nor the District of Columbia ban the use of cell phones by motorists. A driver who is half-oblivious to what's going on around him because he's chattering away on his cell phone is perfectly within the law.

The good news is that while legislators dither, the automobile industry is addressing the problem. Hands-free cell phone technology is replacing the older style where the driver must manually punch in phone numbers and then hold a phone to his ear. Instead, frequently dialed numbers including emergency numbers, such as 911 are stored in a database that can be actuated by voice command. The phone itself is entirely hands-free, with speakers built into and integrated with the car or truck's audio system. The driver simply holds a phone conversation in the same manner as he would conduct a conversation with a passenger who was physically present in the car. Not surprisingly, the private sector is ahead of the government again.

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