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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Stop for serious talk

Since driving is allowed during this pandemic, we look forward to vehicle outings like pet dogs do.  Don’t overdo it, but mating joyrides with necessary ones should be okay.

And when we’re driving, a conversation with a passenger can be distracting but phone dialog even moreso.  Phone conversations, especially serious ones, dilute driver attention and texting should be resisted without exception.

Texting while driving is forbidden by law in jurisdictions nationwide.  But sadly, as grieving families will attest, it still occurs and with disastrous outcomes.  It requires participants to completely remove their eyesight from the roadway repeatedly for several-second intervals.  As simple arithmetic dictates, that means texting drivers are travelling 300 to 400 feet during those “blind” moments at 70 miles per hour.  Plenty of unexpected things can take place during those attention lapses, including a drift into the oncoming lane.

Even at arterial speeds of 35 mph, three to four seconds of visual neglect allows a couple hundred feet of vehicle travel in areas that are even more likely than the highway to produce sudden appearance of obstacles such as animals, pedestrians and bicyclists.

Although texting is universally accepted as a bad practice while driving (even by those who do it), many self-appointed multi-tasking experts believe that cell phone conversations are harmless.  That’s partly because of the designations of “hands-free” and “hand-held” phone use, where the hands-free variety is tolerated.  That puzzles me, as it’s not absolutely crucial to have both hands on the steering wheel at all times, and it seems like that’s the only shortcoming of a hand-held call when compared to a hands-free one.

Early in the days of cellphone use, I once drove to a store during a serious business call. By the time I reached my destination, I couldn’t really recall the route I’d taken, let alone recount the various intersections and traffic control I’d just navigated.  I’d evidently driven in a somewhat unconscious state due to the concentration level afforded my call.

So to me, the point is that whether hand-held or hands-free, the conversation itself can be distracting — it’s severity dependent on the casual versus intense nature of the call.  The only real difference between hand-held and hands-free calls is that in one, you have your hand to your ear.  It seems that by that standard, the legal allowance of hands-free calls penalizes the hand-held users simply for having one’s hand at their ear.  So, should a hands-free Bluetooth user be penalized for scratching their ear?

 Obviously, neither hands-free calls nor conversations within vehicles to passengers can be restricted or policed by law enforcement.  That’s why it’s up to drivers to self-police their conversational behavior while at the wheel.

So, for any form of conversation (hand-held, hands-free, in-car), I think it’s best to pull over to a safe spot to have it if it’s serious.  Business decisions, family or relationship discussions, for example, might steal attention from driving.

Have you ever tried to follow a television program while talking on the phone?  It’s difficult, if not impossible.  Both driving and talking on a cell phone require a lot of thought — when doing both, you do neither as well.

You can certainly converse while safely driving, but keep your conversations casual and delay serious ones until the car is stopped.  In unfamiliar or dense traffic situations, it is probably best to just shut up and drive.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at