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10 May 2007

Sort of ranty exasperated post about drive 'n' dialers Is there anything that can be done to try to convince people not to use their fucking cell phones when driving? As an avid motorcyclist/bicyclist, I'm a little more vulnerable to the stupid shit I see people pull in HUGE cars WHILE yammering on the goddamn cell phones, but it's dangerous for everyone out there. [More:]

Just out for a lunchtime ride now, I was cut off by two people with phones glued to their ears, and a third made an aggressive left turn off of a main arterial right in front of me as I was going the opposite direction.

Connecticut passed a law against this two years ago, but it really hasn't seemeed to make a dent.

When I see it happen, I usually make the finger-phone (hook 'em horns)/ hang it up, gesture, but I'm sure it doesn't make an impression. Does anyone else employ any particular effective techniques/gestures to combat this menace?
Apologies for lack of [mi]... I forgot where I was (still getting the hang of mecha), and it was too late to stop it after I pressed the post button. (oops!)
posted by psmealey 10 May | 13:12
In the summer I usually just yell "Get off the damned phone!" out my window. I'm a jerk though.
posted by LunaticFringe 10 May | 13:15
Hey, I was cut off by a cell-phone using, bad driver at lunchtime, too. They were driving in an open jeep, on the beltway. 1)Don't know how they managed to hear the person on the other line 2)Would have laughed if their cell slipped out of their hand while they were turning off the ramp.

In response to your question. Mace? Haha, kidding. Maybe.
posted by moonshine 10 May | 13:21
It was made illegal here a few years ago, with a £40 fine if caught. People ignored it totally. So the penalty was upped recently, to 3 points on the licence. Once you get to 12 points, you lose your licence for 6 months. People still ignore it.

Jeez, I can barely walk and talk at the same time, every time I try to use the phone in the street I trip up, so I would never dare try it while driving.

Cozy Powell died in a crash because he was using his cellphone. I remember reading a report of the inquest in the paper. His last words were "oh shit".
posted by essexjan 10 May | 13:25
I more-insided you!

I'm terrified that my husband now wants to bike around downtown Athens since we've moved from our incredibly convenient, wonderful location in Greece's second city. Even before cell phones, Greek drivers have always been, in my view, reckless, lacking skill, blind, and impatient. And now everyone is on cell phones all the time. Always. Everywhere. Constantly. Aiee.
posted by taz 10 May | 13:26
Driving home last night I passed a bicyclist who was on his cell phone. In the road. With a running/cycling trail not 10 yards to his right, off the busy road.

I drive in Boston, so it's not like the cell phone could possibly make the people around here worse drivers. Honestly, I've gotten so used to the nutcase drivers here that if I ever move to the midwest I won't know what to do with myself. I usually just give the cell phone users a wider berth than the other folks.
posted by backseatpilot 10 May | 13:28
Taz, thanks for hoping me!
posted by psmealey 10 May | 13:28
I've gotten so used to the nutcase drivers here that if I ever move to the midwest I won't know what to do with myself.

I know that many do not generally accept Chicago as being part of the folkloric "Midwest", but in the two years I lived there, I noticed that Chicagoans run red lights like it doesn't even matter, and almost always while on the phone.

Having ridden for much of my life in Boston and New York (and Paris), I'll take the predictably aggressive and vindictive drivers in those places over the anarchic ones I saw Chicago.
posted by psmealey 10 May | 13:35
I have an hour commute in stop and go traffic everyday and I see people doing all kinds of things other than actually paying attention to their driving. Off the top of my head: Talking on the phone, texting on the phone, putting on makeup, putting on hairspray, reading the paper, reading a map. This week I saw a woman clipping her nose hairs with one of those little rotary things while she was driving.
posted by octothorpe 10 May | 13:37
That reminds me, yesterday on my trek into New York City down the Saw Mill Parkway, the guy behind me was actually shaving. With SHAVING CREAM and a track II razor. I've seen the dry electric shaver bit before, but that was definitly a first. I wonder if he had a bucket of water in there with him.
posted by psmealey 10 May | 13:40
I've got no solutions, but man, I feel you. I bike to work and can count on a couple of near-death experiences a week. I've thought about switching bikes and riding one of my clipless-pedal jobs to work, so that I can at least scrape the shit out of people's cars with my shoe cleats if they're trying to run me down. Haven't tried it yet, though.
posted by cobra! 10 May | 13:43
As a fellow motorcyclist and general hater-of-stupidity on the road, I completely disagree with you. People are generally bad or rude drivers, with or without cell phones. The cell phone isn't the cause. I sometimes use my phone on the road, and I know I'm 100% the same driver with or without it. I do know, however, to put down the phone when negotiating a busy intersection. I'm just not a fan of blanket nanny-state laws that rule out something that's 99% safe because 1% of people will do it unsafely.

Research has shown that use of cellular phones does not interfere significantly with the ability to control an automobile except among the elderly, where potentially dangerous lane excursions can occur. However, the effect of cellular phones as a possible distraction has not been investigated. -- Some study (first google hit for "cell phone accident statistics")

Rationality, not emotions, in lawmaking, please...
posted by knave 10 May | 13:49
Amazing how moronic people are with cell phones. There was a lady who died four miles from my house because she was so engrossed in her conversation that she ran a red light - in front of a loaded dump truck. I have one of those Bluetooth things, but there's only two people who ever call me and that's very rarely. Funny how something that's supposed to be so convenient is such a dangerous thing.
posted by redvixen 10 May | 13:57
knave, if you actually bother to read that study, it says:

All forms of cellular phone usage lead to significant increases in the establishment of non-response to highway-traffic situations and increase in time to respond.

Relative increase in chances of a highway-traffic situation going unnoticed ranged from approximately 20% for placing a call in simple conversations to 29% for complex conversations.

You say:

I sometimes use my phone on the road, and I know I'm 100% the same driver with or without it.

But the whole issue here is that using the phone allegedly distracts your attention from your driving, so how can you be certain that you'd notice the deterioration in your driving? You just can't judge this yourself.
posted by chrismear 10 May | 14:02
chris, point taken. I can't prove anything, except that I don't run red lights and cause accidents, and I drive something like 30k miles every year. Maybe I'm special, or maybe I'm an accident waiting to happen. In a quick poll of a few friends, 100% of them said they use the phone while driving occasionally. Seems like cell phone use is exceedingly common, and total carnage isn't. But I could be convinced otherwise.

redvixen, I've been in the car on two separate occasions with a driver who ran a red light out of sheer obliviousness. In neither case was the driver on a cell phone.

People should be held responsible when they're at fault for running lights and causing accidents. I just think our behavior shouldn't be regulated to this minute level. Why not make car stereos, GPS navigation systems, eating while driving, doing make-up, etc. illegal too? Do we really have to enumerate and make illegal every activity that might distract you while driving?
posted by knave 10 May | 14:17
Oh, wow - knave, I'm so different from you; I don't even trust myself to eat and walk at the same time... But I see how it can be frustrating for someone who's hyperaware and really a skilled driver to have to deal with the cell phone accusations.

However, I do think (from my observations) that most people are pretty poor drivers, and even worse while their attention is divided (cell phone, car phone, kids, personal grooming, whatever). It's scary to me; I don't want to be on the road as a driver or a passenger or as a cycler with almost anyone.
posted by taz 10 May | 14:42
Cell phone use might not be the most egregiously distracting thing a motorist can engage in, but from my perspective behind the handlebars, it is certainly one of the most visible.

I grant you that my small anecdotal sample doesn't amount to a scientific survey, but truthfully, I can tell you that in the 4 out of 5 exmamples of dangerous carelessness I see every week, the cause has been some asshole talking on a phone. As a biker yourself, can you honestly tell me that you haven't noticed the same? Particularly when you notice someone holding the phone up to their left ear, making a left turn into a busy intersection. I see this at least every day. Losing some marginal amount of reaction time is one thing, but losing that reaction time and intentionally obstructing your peripheral vision on the side to which you are turning? Not good.

And, I wasn't advocating for the anti-libertarian position of implementing more "nanny state" laws (since the ones we have don't really work anyway), just merely looking for a better way to call to a driver's attention that he's behaving like a total moron while at the controls of a 2 ton beast than flipping him the bird.

But I see how it can be frustrating for someone who's hyperaware and really a skilled driver to have to deal with the cell phone accusations.

Here's some more rash and unscientific generalization for you: most people think they are skilled and hyperaware drivers. Most people are neither of those things.
posted by psmealey 10 May | 14:53
Driving home last night I passed a bicyclist who was on his cell phone. In the road.

I sometimes make quick calls or text people while on my bike, and it doesn't really seem that dangerous. Certainly not dangerous to anyone apart from me, since I only do it on straight roads with no traffic lights or pedestrians about to run out. I wouldn't do it in a car, though.
posted by matthewr 10 May | 15:15
Yes, psmealey, I see it all the time. I'm cut off by drivers with and without cell phones every day. I live in RI, the state with the certifiably worst drivers (link), and I drive through some of its worst-designed roads every day. If I got angry about every incident, and carried that anger with me, I'd have committed a violent crime by now.

Nothing you can gesture toward the other driver will communicate anything. The other driver, you see, believes he has done nothing wrong. You can't convince him that he has, and the aggravation isn't worth it. Find a peaceful place inside you, release the feelings of anger and just move on.
posted by knave 10 May | 15:21
I just realized you said you're in CT. We should ride some time. There are a couple other metachatters who ride in this area too.
posted by knave 10 May | 15:24
Good advice in general, knave. I mostly get pissed off while it's happening, but have usually forgotten about it by the time I get home. Just had a memorable lunch break today.

I may take you up on that at some point, thanks for mentioning it.
posted by psmealey 10 May | 15:29
Here's some more rash and unscientific generalization for you: most people think they are skilled and hyperaware drivers. Most people are neither of those things.

I like to counteract this trend by thinking of myself as a piss poor driver. That way I'm pleasantly surprised when I arrive at my destination intact.
posted by mullacc 10 May | 15:42
I've been seeing people TEXTING while driving lately. I'd much rather see someone talking on the phone with eyes on the road than someone trying to punch in numbers and having to look down to verify, change numbers, etc.
posted by initapplette 10 May | 15:58
I like to counteract this trend by thinking of myself as a piss poor driver. That way I'm pleasantly surprised when I arrive at my destination intact.

I think that's awesome. That's on my list of things you hardly ever hear people say: "Dude, I'm a really bad driver, so when I'm behind the wheel, watch out!" I once dated a woman who was insistent to the point of being emotional about how unquestionably good a driver she was. Every drive with her was strictly a white-knuckled affair. She would routinely trail the car in front of her by 10-15 feet, regardless of the speed and was always surprised at how many people would flip her off throughout the course of a day.
posted by psmealey 10 May | 15:58
i hate driving so much i quit doing it altogether. let's just say that, in the U.S., as population has increased, and no effort has been made to make driver training anymore comprehensive or effective, the incidence of clueless incompetence has definitely increased, and that pretty much says it.

the biggest thing i notice about the driving-whilst-dialled is that they're invariably the ones who utterly fail to use directional indicators. they also tend to be the ones who commonly will start to pull out from a side entrance whilst gazing abstractedly at approaching cross traffic - then at the last minute they'll suddenly 'wake up' and slam on the brakes. i've seen people get rearended doing this at the mall. it's all anecdotal but it certainly seems that yakking on the phone makes one less capable of making effective snap judgements.

imo (and this is just my o) the safest bike i have for urban commuting and dealing with crazy drivers is my fixed gear, and YES i run a front brake. riding fixed is like walking - you have immediate, instinctive control of the bike via your feet. that and the fact that being on a fixte makes you far more inclined to look well ahead and pay very strict attention to what's going on.

i don't wanna get into the discussion of bike trails vs. roadways. just: there are many situations in this region where a bike lane/shoulder parallels a bike path on a busy street. 100 times out of 100 i choose the street. keep in mind that bike paths in this country are not BIKE paths - cyclists in fact are the lowest order on the totem pole and required to yield to all other users on them. this includes the clueless, the ipod wearers, the n00b on rollerblades weaving drunkenly about and the idiots walking many abreast and completely blocking the path. statistically, bike paths are two to three times MORE dangerous for an experienced cyclist than using the roadway.

the caveat is that when in the road, cyclists must take responsibility to act as a vehicle. this means NOT running lights, remembering to signal and in general not riding like an asshat.

and yes, i was a messenger. another pet peeve that's cropped up in the last couple three years: just because you're a knickers-clad fixte hipster does not mean we ex or current couriers have any respect for you. so put this in your pipe and smoke it, you che guevara tshirt wearing critical masshole: if your livelihood does not depend on you cutting that light or pissing off that bus, then DON'T. quit fucking up the mojo for the rest of us out there on 2 wheels who'd sincerely like to make it to our destination alive and un-road-raged.

as to using cell phones, yea i've done it on the bike, and i'll do it again, tho i only do so on quiet roads, for the simple fact that i can't understand the convo with trucks whizzing past my head. and i never answer calls in traffic, i just let 'em ring. i cant be arsed to rearend a bus just because i don't have the self discipline to let the fucking thing go thru to voicemail.

but then, my life does not revolve around my cell phone either.
posted by lonefrontranger 10 May | 16:24
lfr gave me a great idea. Install direct drive axles on cars and trucks--totally eliminate the differential altogether! Drivers will be so concerned about throttle control that they won't be able to have cell phone conversations.
posted by mullacc 10 May | 16:38
but then, my life does not revolve around my cell phone either.


I really wish that more people—hell, everyone—would adopt that attitude. There is nothing wrong with letting a call go to voicemail if you aren't in a position to deal with it at the moment. Just because a cellphone enables you to be in contact with any given person you know at any given moment does not mean you must be in contact. Learn some moderation, people.

This rant is dedicated to all those who insist on carrying on pointless conversations on their phones while using a public restroom, driving in traffic, waiting in line at the bank, and other inappropriate places.

And one more thing: That stupid Nextel "beep" is beginning to wear through my patience. Pretty much any time I hear that f$*#ing noise I feel like yanking the offending phone out of the offending person's hand and stomping it with my boot.

posted by deadcowdan 10 May | 16:52
I'm guilty of occasionally talking on the cellphone while driving. It's a dumb idea, and I can tell my reflexes are delayed while on the phone. If I'm on a stretch of open highway I don't worry so much. If I'm in busy traffic, I make it very, very brief.

The other day I was on the phone for a minute and I did something dumb like slow down or switch lanes when it wasn't appropriate.

Whenever I notice a person on the phone, I automatically think, "moron", but I do it too. I'm going to make an effort to cut it out all together.

I don't use my phone in public, so I'm not totally obnoxious.
posted by LoriFLA 10 May | 16:59
I'm like LoriFLA. I sometimes use the phone on the road, and I can tell my reaction time is very decreased, not to mention the loss of manouverability.

From now on, I'm going to make my calls before I turn on the car or after I turn it off. There's really no reason to use the phone in the car, unless you're some sort of Jack Bauer-type. Drivers here in south central Texas are terrible - I should be more alert while I'm driving anyway.

BTW, I've started confronting my friends when they take a phone call when we're out without excusing themselves and walking away or outside. It's so rude to sit there with a companion and talk to someone else on the phone.
posted by muddgirl 10 May | 17:04
Hah, muddgirl, totally with you on the last point. A friend of mine sets his phone down on the table when we eat at a restaurant. Like a little reminder to the present company that this thing takes precedence.
posted by knave 10 May | 17:20
Actually, let me amend my bitch list above. As far as waiting in line at the bank, or anywhere else for that matter, I really don't care too much if people use their phones to chat, as long as they can keep from talking so loud that people driving by outside can get the gist of the conversation. What ticks me off are people who try to maneuver through a banking transaction or checking out at the supermarket whilst carrying on said conversation. That's completely rude and thoughtless, and tells me that person has let their phone take over their life.
posted by deadcowdan 10 May | 17:26
Half the cellphone calls I receive require no higher brain functions to conduct -- they consist of people I don't need to hear from calling me because they need something to do. They haven't generally thought out their call before placing it, and they are generally fine with an occasional, hearty "Great!" or "Sure!" from me. These non-conversations seem important to the other party, and I don't mind taking them while driving, because they don't detract from driving as a first activity.

But 5% of the phone calls I get would require an immediate seated position even if I were home, full concentration on the most subtle of nuances, and judgements made on Freudian slips and pauses. These, I have no business taking behind the wheel, and I don't.

The remaining 45% are judgement calls, literally. If I'm in traffic, or driving in unfamiliar territory, I may decide to pull off, or let the call go to voicemail. If driving a familiar highway in a no traffic condition, I may take the call. I place less than 1% of my cell calls from my vehicles, and probably 90% of those are for clarifications of directions to a destination to which I'm en route.

Respect for others sharing the road, and respect for callers I'm engaging telephonically seem eminently classifiable to me. And that seems a precondition for safe cell use in the car.
posted by paulsc 10 May | 17:53
Half the cellphone calls I receive require no higher brain functions to conduct...


why take them then?
posted by lonefrontranger 10 May | 18:09
why take them then?

Oh I can answer this one! From paulsc's comment:

"These non-conversations seem important to the other party, and I don't mind taking them while driving, because they don't detract from driving as a first activity."
posted by mullacc 10 May | 18:28

i guess this is why some people think i'm antisocial. cos if i don't give a fuck about the convo, i don't start it. maybe its just me but i'd rather talk to someone who gives a fuck. i don't do insincerity well, sorry 'bout that.

and yes mullacc i saw that part. that wasn't the point...

eh, nevermind.
posted by lonefrontranger 10 May | 18:42
Which person doesn't give a fuck? Seems like the other people give a fuck and paulsc is willing to give them what they want. Downright altruistic if you ask me.
posted by mullacc 10 May | 19:06
My suggestion: Outlaw automatic transmissions. "Shit, Jerry, I can't talk to you right now. I've actually got to drive this thing."

Oh, and double all speed limits. That way, the road has 100% of your attention.
posted by Eideteker 11 May | 08:25
Since my ride hasn't arrived yet, I continue to rant.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Having a cell phone means you can use it anywhere. It doesn't mean you should. The phone evolved as a device for use in one's primary space, the home. Your home, your space. Cellular technology has brought phones out into the secondary spaces, the places where strangers interact. That does not mean one should act as if in one's primary space. When receiving a phone call, excuse yourself and take it somewhere private. It doesn't matter if you're in a store, on a sidewalk, or in a park. Find a place where you will not disturb others or call the person back once you can. The few exceptions to this are in cases of emergency (help, I'm underneath a truck, can you come get me?) or immediacy (ok, so I'm in the park, where are you? The movie starts in 10 minutes!). In the latter case, it's usually just a brief call. But to just blithely walk around (or worse, stand at someone's counter) having a conversation about everything and nothing?

Some hints:
1. Plan your shopping ahead of time. Write a list. Do not call home and ask the wife what you need to buy.
2. Plan outings accordingly. Get good directions, and verify them with whoever you're going to visit. If you are meeting in a public place, choose a significant, specific, and recognizable landmark at which to meet your party.
3. Your sweetheart does not need to know that the train is running five minutes late. You are just making busywork because you are bored sitting on the train. Get a book. They're free for a predetermined rental period at your local library. If you do not know what a library is, consult google maps for your locality.
4. Write a letter. You do not need to catch every single one of your friends up on every minute detail of your day. I know it's great to be able to think aloud, all day long, nonstop, but don't do it in public. Letter writing encourages economy of communication, because it's more time consuming. You actually have to pick and choose which details are the most important to convey. Alternatively, start a journal. And if you must call someone when out in public, at least compose your thoughts in advance. Don't give your money to cell phone companies just so you can go "ummm... uhhh..." into the ether.
5. Realize that you are not that important. You may feel like the fate of the free world is in your hands, or the weight of the world is on your shoulders. It's not. You do not need to juggle 80,000 things at once. You do have time to just stroll down the sidewalk, soaking up what's around you. You have the time to do one thing at a time.

There are more, I'm sure. The most important, rule 0, is: Remember, people got along just fine before cell phones. Your toddler does not need a phone. Your friends and family do not need to know at all times where you are and what you are doing (that's the gov't's business). Relax. Enjoy life. The phone is a tool. It's a great tool, but still only a tool. Use as necessary and then hang up. Let go.
posted by Eideteker 11 May | 08:47
Other than when people are driving, I mostly don't mind it when people use cell phones discreetly. One thing I cannot stand is LOUD TALKERS using their cell phones in public places, like restaurants, trains, etc. This is extremely aggravating.

Why do people continue to do this? The technology is actually quite good these days, and one doesn't need to raise one's voice to be heard... even with a lot of ambient noise of the speaker's side.

Can we launch an ad capaign to bring awareness of this to the fore as well?
posted by psmealey 11 May | 09:23
I'm a loud phone talker because I'm a loud talker, period. I mean, I *can* be quiet, and often am when the context requires it, but I tend to lose that sense of context when on the phone. It has little to do with the technology, just my big-mouthedness -- I'm just as loud on the phone at home. :)

But that's actually the main reason I didn't get a cell phone until a few years ago, I didn't want to be that annoying loud person. So I try not to use it too much in public places.
posted by occhiblu 11 May | 15:29
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