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Image: Man talks on cell phone while driving
Douglas C. Pizac  /  AP file
"So yeah, this research says there's little, if any, difference between hand-held and hands-free phones, cause either way, the cognitive distraction is significant enough to degrade a driver's performance ... so I said the heck with that, I ain't blowin' my money on Bluetooth ... hang on, I gotta answer this text from my wife."
Helen Popkin
By
msnbc.com
updated 7/24/2009 8:44:45 AM ET 2009-07-24T12:44:45

While heroic politicians all over America are mandating bicycle helmets, it's still legal to drive 4,000 pounds of steel 60 miles an hour while your brain is turned to the moron setting.

Oh you know exactly who and what I’m talking about. You know because you are that one guy in all the world who is perfectly capable of operating your automobile and cellular device simultaneously without endangering yourself or those driving around you … all of whom are also operating their automobiles and cellular devices simultaneously, because they too are quite certain that they are that one guy … but of course they’re wrong because it’s you who is that one guy, not any of them … morons.

Seriously. Dang. Isn’t it time we, as a people, owned up to the cognitive dissonance going down whenever we tsk-tsk terrible tales of texting bus drivers, then yack away behind the wheel while driving way the hell over the speed limit or coasting through a four-way stop with a carpool full of kids? We should be shocked and appalled that a seven-year-old recommendation by National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration that drivers not use cell phones — not even hands-free — only surfaced Tuesday.

Yet as safety advocates continue to battle politics and the long reach of the cell phone industry, we, of our own free will, continue to blithely endanger the lives of others by partaking in unnecessary wireless communication empirically proven to be deadly.

The facts are these: The NHTSA’s no-cell phones-while-driving recommendations of 2002 and 2003 were made public Tuesday only because The Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen, two public interest groups, filed a lawsuit to obtain the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

These recommendations, along with a proposal for a long-term study of 10,000 drivers to assess the safety risk posed by cell phone use behind the wheel, were shelved, according to those quoted in The New York Times , for several “larger political considerations.”

These “larger political considerations” include, but are not limited to fear that Congress would accuse the NHTSA of overstepping its bounds from suggestion-making into lobbying, alienating stakeholders unwilling to alienate multitask-while-motoring voters and blah blah blah blah blah ….

Around the time of NHTSA 2002 report, cell phone subscribers made up more than half of the United States population, and highway safety researchers estimated driver/cell phone-related accidents to be the cause of 955 fatalities and 240,000 accidents overall. Cell phone subscribers now make up 87 percent of the U.S. population, according to the CTIA-The Wireless Association, the cell phone industry trade group.

Here’s some more numbers for you: Motorists talking on a phone are four times as likely to crash as other drivers, and are as likely to cause an accident as someone with a 0.08 blood alcohol content, according to research. Do you even want to think about your loved ones cruising around with a road full of texters?

There are plenty of people out there who have a hard enough time texting while simply walking . Last year the American College of Emergency Physicians issued a warning regarding serious texting accidents around the country involving text-messaging pedestrians, bicyclists, even roller skaters and horseback riders.

Subjectively, Technotica encourages any law that would outlaw cell phone talking or texting in grocery stores and elevators, let alone while driving or walking.

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Those who work here in midtown Manhattan complain constantly about tourists crapping up the sidewalks by stopping short to snap some photos. But how many buses have been missed (by me) because of them and their big dumb BlackBerrys?

Still, BlackBerry blockage at the curb is not the deathtrap that is cell phone use and driving. If I seem harsh, perhaps I can’t relate. Not since seventh grade (and with the exception of texting old-timey obscenities to one particular frenemy), have I burned to talk to someone so much so that car insurance considerations become secondary.

Further, I am now, and have always been, that jackass who will ask you if you plan to call out or answer your cell phone while driving before I agree to get into your car, and I will jump out if you, or the cab driver, insist on doing otherwise.

I’ve lost count on how many friends I’ve hung up on once I realized he or she called me from a moving vehicle with steering wheel in hand. Hey, they knew I was a jackass going in. And frankly, when it comes to cell phones and driving, being this kind of jackass is best for all concerned.

Why not pull over to the side of the road and friend Helen A.S. Popkin on Facebook ... or just follow her on Twitter?

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