Jeff Ward: Put the Cell Phone Down! The Life You Save May Be My Own

Jeff presents his first-ever, highly coveted "Keen Perception of the Obvious Award” to the NTSB for calling for a complete, vehicle cell-phone ban last week.

Of all the sentences I thought I’d never have the opportunity to write, other than “The are doing a bang up job,” the one that might top the unexpected list is, “A local newspaper got it wrong, while a government agency got it right!”

Why do I keep seeing the shadow of Rod Serling out of the corner of my eye?

But all references aside, when the National Transportation Safety Board came out in favor of a complete, vehicle cell-phone ban last week, I immediately jumped out of my chair and starting singing the first verse of God Bless America.

Kate Smith ain’t got nuthin’ on me.

“No call, no text, no update is worth a human life,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman told the press. “It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving.”

Hallelujah! This remarkable bout of common sense marks the NTSB as the first federal agency capable of standing up to that D.C. quagmire of lobbyists, special interests and general stupidity to make the right call (no pun intended).

By the way, by “full ban,” God bless ‘em, they mean all hands-free apparatus, as well!

Only someone with a suicidal streak would text behind the wheel, but staring down the loaded barrel of the powerful cell phone lobby, the NTSB paid heed to those studies, blowing away the notion that babbling on your Bluetooth isn't any less distracting.

But then the Kane County Chronicle just had to go ahead and ruin my newfound NTSB-induced Christmas spirit by writing an editorial titled, “Cell phone ban would go too far.” And this from the newspaper that had the remarkable good sense to run my very first column.

The good Chron editors had the nerve to use two of the most specious pro-yakking-while-you’re-driving arguments on the planet. Not that they’re the only ones to go that route. They said that an outright ban “is too far of a stretch” because, in addition to cell phones, there are all sorts of other driving distractions, like “eating, putting on makeup and reading.”

Oh, I see! So the existence of other similar absurd acts somehow mitigates the need to fix this one! Using that logic, I may as well start embezzling from my wife because I’m already cheating on her anyway.

The Chronicle also argued that most cell-phone-impaired drivers are “doing fine” because they don’t get into accidents. OK! Using that logic, we should legalize drunken driving, because the vast majority manages to make it home safely, too. As a judge once told me, the average DUI defendant has already gotten away with it a staggering (pun intended) 87 times before he or she is finally pulled over.

And speaking of drunken drivers, a number of studies, including one performed by the famous Discovery Channel Mythbusters, proved that driving while using a cell phone, even hands free, renders the driver less competent than someone at the legal .08 limit.

No! They’re not “doing fine.” In the past six months, I’ve seen three cell-phone-addled drivers run red lights, including one Route 38 motorist who, upon realizing his mistake two-thirds of the way through the intersection, threw the SUV into reverse, nearly ramming the vehicle behind him.

I’ve seen them brake for stop signs that weren’t there and blow through the ones that were. On more than one occasion, they’ve nearly forced me into oncoming traffic with their weaving ways and, at least three times a week, I get behind some yutz yakking away while doing 25 mph in a 40 mph zone.

The reason these idiots make it home alive isn’t their own competence—it’s because the rest of us are on high alert. That old adage needs to be amended to “God protects children, fools and drivers on cell phones” because thankfully, most drivers are predictable, and we make the appropriate adjustments.

It’s gotten to the point where I look for those telltale signs—hand glued to the ear or the driver’s mouth flapping in the outside mirror—and then I avoid them just like any other drunken driver. Somehow, I’m not sure this is what those Evanston Township High School driving instructors had in mind when they told me to drive defensively!

The Chronicle certainly isn’t the only paper that suggested we might have an enforcement problem, but I also have the answer for that! Just as I’ve 911-ed three drunken drivers, I’ll be more than happy to rat out these folks, too. And once they realize their fellow motorists are willing to drop a dime on them, they’ll get a clue pretty quickly.

Aside from reporting emergency situations, there’s absolutely no need to use your cell phone while driving. Considering the potential danger. Does anyone really need to spend that much time babbling about inconsequential things? Any reasonable person with two connected brain cells should refrain from this act without having to be told to do so.

But as Hamlet once soliloquied, “Aye, there’s the rub.” Putting the words “reasonable” and “person” together in a sentence will only get you heartache. Since we aren’t willing to put our cell phones down, I’m wholeheartedly supporting the NTSB and their sensible efforts to ban the use of cell phones in moving vehicles.

In fact, I’m so impressed with them, I’m bestowing my first annual and highly regarded “Keen Perception of the Obvious Award” to that agency for having the you-know-whats to say what the rest of us already know.

Lisa December 24, 2011 at 04:32 AM
Hahahahahahaaaaaa! Good one. Funny.:)
Mark December 24, 2011 at 05:37 AM
I have been driving semi trucks, heavy and light wreckers for the better part of 40 years, much of it before the proliferation of cell phones. I have witnessed and cleaned up many serious accidents, including quite a few fatalities. I have seen the results first hand of in-attentive drivers. I have seen young people and children severely injured and maimed, many for life. Granted, one may argue the many causes, but in more recent years more and more of them are being caused by unnecessary cell phone usage. Unfortunately many cell phone users do not even realize they have caused an accident at all. One can never say for sure what part of the road commands more attention than another as one cannot be sure of another's actions. An outright ban would be an enforcement nightmare, however, should one be involved in an accident causing serious bodily injury or death, the driver's cell phone records should be checked and if found that the phone was in use for any reason, their license should be suspended immediately for an extended period of time.
Jeff Ward December 24, 2011 at 01:09 PM
Jean, You are correct, but I did qualify that by saying that cell phones are great for reporting emergency situations which would be excepted in any ban. And getting a drunk driver off the road is clearly an emergency situation. Though I know you'd like to, you can't compare calling 911 three times in 20 years to having a cellphone glued to your ear every waking moment you're in the car. Jeff
Jack December 24, 2011 at 02:37 PM
Yes- please ban all phone use while driving !
Dan Stearns December 24, 2011 at 07:18 PM
Studies by the NHTSB, AAA and various state DOT's have all implicated distracted driving as a contributor to accidents. Interestingly, there is no difference between talking on the phone or talking to a passenger in the car when it comes to accident data. Therefore the government should ban all talking (and singing along to the radio, for that matter - since it would be impossible for an observing officer to discern between singing and talking).


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