Guest MINDSETTER™ Steven Artigas: Time to Disable the Cellphones

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


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You've seen this guy, and chances are he's nearly run you off the road. Is it time to disable his technology?

I was almost sideswiped by another driver on Interstate 95 today. He missed me by a couple of inches and I looked over with alarm as he passed to see him looking down into his lap and not out the windshield. No proof, naturally, but it's a safe bet he was texting on his cell phone. If fact, I had been watching him in my mirror as he approached from behind in the passing lane, and his directional control was marginal, to say the least.

Who among us has not been witness to an inattentive driver using a cell, whether talking or texting? Of course, the cell phone industry likes to use the term 'distracted driving' which allows them to justify mobile phone use by saying it is no different from tuning the radio or talking to a passenger.

We would do well to ignore this self-serving argument. Reliable experiments have shown that talking on a cell while driving is tantamount to driving with a blood alcohol level of .08, or legally drunk. Anecdotal evidence tells us that texting is much worse. Legislation does not seem to help, as you are guilty only if caught, and the police can't be everywhere. However, this problem can be solved with existing technology. Cell phones are now Global Positioning System (GPS) capable. One of the measurements available from a GPS receiver is speed over ground. It would be a simple programming matter to make cell phones disable themselves at speeds over, say, 10 miles per hour. The phones would not make outgoing calls and would direct incoming calls to voicemail. Texts would be similarly curtailed.

Yes, I can hear the howls of protest from every direction. "Suppose there is an emergency!" The disabling function would include an exception for calls to 911.

"The passengers wouldn't be able to use their phones either!" If it isn't practical or safe to stop, the call can wait. It wasn't that long ago there were no cell phones and we managed our lives quite well.

"Limiting my cell phone use is an infringement on my rights!" This, no doubt, would come from the American Civil Liberties Union. And yes, it is a restriction, just like that old canard about not yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater. A driver is expected to blend into traffic, not create a hazard.

"I'm a multitasker, I can drive perfectly well while talking or texting!" Sure you can, just like that driver who almost punted me off the road.

Now, as a realist, I understand that my suggestion has approximately zero chance of enactment. The cell phone industry has plenty of money to fight any encroachment in the use of its product. In addition, at least some lawmakers would be loathe to affix their imprimatur to a law curtailing this popular practice, whether mindful of re-election or for their own personal convenience. But no true downside to this proposal comes to mind. Perhaps a family member of a government official has to be hurt or killed by a driver using a cell before definitive action is taken. 

Steven Artigas is a lifelong Westerly resident.


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