by Edward Shanahan
A few weeks back when it was still dark at 6 p.m., Ann, on her way
home from work, came up with a flat tire on Elm Street.
No big deal. She simply whipped out her cellular telephone and dialed
up the AAA road service, which promised, wrongly as it turned out,
to be on the scene within half an hour.
Score one for the cell phone. When trouble arises in transit, you
can be in immediate communication with authorities so that help
But, as the number of accidents and fatalities associated with drivers
who are using cell phones mounts, safe-driving advocates are pushing
for tougher regulations, if not outright bans, on the use of hand-held
phones while operating a motor vehicle.
Makes sense to me; always has.
The other day on Maple Street in Florence, I witnessed a woman get
into her SUV, turn on the ignition, light a cigarette, dial up her
cell phone, and pull away from the curb. I believe she only had
two hands, yet she was trying to manage all these activities at
once; seems impossible, even assuming her car had an automatic transmission.
Ever since cell phones first became ubiquitous, not only among pedestrians
ambling along sidewalks, but with drivers of cars, I've believed
that driving while talking on the phone is a growing highway menace.
One needs to have both hands free and concentrate on the road to
handle the task of driving. Telephone conversations are distracting;
often more than chitchat, they can be emotional, dealing with good
news and bad. Phone calls can evoke elation or anger that affect
behavior. Driving a car requires discipline and a cool head.
For a long time, no one gave the issue a second thought. Slowly
awareness is increasing that talking on cell phones while driving
may pose risks not just for the driver but for the rest of us.
According to a recent New York Times article, cell phone restrictions
have been enacted by a small number of local governmental jurisdictions,
with the movement continuing to grow.
While no state has passed any such restrictions, bills have been
submitted in some 35 state legislatures seeking restrictions on
phone use by motorists.
And an organization called Advocates for Cell Phone Safety claims
that so far 22 countries have approved restrictions on drivers using
Not surprisingly, the cell-phone industry, which has financial and
political muscle, has a huge stake in the proliferation of cell
phone use anywhere, anytime, under all circumstances. And the industry
is using its muscle to block efforts at restrictions and bans on
cell phone use in cars, which were said in the Times article to
generate 70 percent of all cell phone calls.
The Times article says that "safety research seems to be lagging
behind the industry's rapid growth," with the industry disputing
claims that using cell phones while driving "increases the risk
of an accident by more than 30 percent."
The opposition to cell phone use by drivers is more anecdotal than
statistical, but the complaints of erratic driving by distracted,
arrogant, cell phone-toting motorists continues to grow as do efforts
to enact restrictions.
With a documented penchant for getting enmeshed in national and
international issues, the Northampton City Council should take a
careful look at the cell phone factor in relation to local road
Measures to promote greater safety on city streets by the so-called
safe streets task force should make cell phone use by local motorists
part of the equation.