"I got distracted by my cell phone."
On a January afternoon several years ago, Dallas mom Mandy Golman finished up some shopping for her 18-month-old daughter, Macy, and was heading back to the office. "I thought I'd use the ride to catch up with my mother," she says. So she picked up her cell phone and dialed. Minutes later, as the 28-year-old college educator took a left turn into traffic after stopping at a stop sign, an SUV that had the right of way came barreling toward her. Golman slammed on her brakes, and the SUV's driver swerved to miss her. "He still hit me," she says. "Right across the front, tearing off my license plate as if it were paper."
Her heart pounding, Golman instantly realized that her cell phone had distracted her so much that she hadn't looked carefully before she turned. She eyed the empty car seat behind her. What if my daughter had been with me? she wondered. "I never talk on the phone anymore while driving," she says.
More than 107 million Americans now have a cell phone, and as many as 85 percent use one while driving. Yet research suggests that this habit greatly increases your risk of being in a crash, perhaps by as much as 400 percent. U.S. and European studies show that phone-chatting drivers have significantly slower reaction times. And a Canadian study concluded that talking on the phone is nearly as dangerous as driving while intoxicated.
Frances Bents, coauthor of the 1997 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report on the subject, says the danger is extreme. "Talking on a cell phone steals your attention away from driving," she says. "That's why cell-phone collisions are almost always linked to leaving your lane or failing to stop. Both actions have horrendous consequences."
Smart Safety Steps:
- If you need to make a phone call, stop driving and park your car in a safe place.
- Don't be fooled by headsets. They may seem to make calling safer, but you still have to look down to dial the phone, and the distraction of the conversation is the primary hazard.
- Don't answer the phone while driving. A Japanese study determined that nearly half of all cell-phone-related crashes occurred while the driver was scrambling to do just that.
Copyright © 2001 Hal Karp. Reprinted with permission from the April 2001 issue of Parents Magazine.