Hanging Up for Driving Safety
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And here's a travel factoid. According to the American Highway Users Alliance, by summer's end, vacationing drivers will take more than 300 million leisure trips. And that's defined as recreational cruises of more than 50 miles. Add to that drivers talking on their cell phones and, well, you've got today's Unger Report. Here is Brian Unger.
BRIAN UNGER reporting:
Right now, if you find yourself at the intersection of `I'm never going to get there' and `Why do I do this to myself?' you might postulate that traffic has never been worse. And you're correct. The summer of 2005 will shape up to be the busiest summer travel vacation period ever. And wherever your travels take you, there will always be a driver slowing your progress because they're talking on a cell phone, calling someone, anyone, to tell them about a new haircut, how "The Dukes of Hazzard" movie just didn't deliver, or how they got food poisoning this weekend. In fact, when astronauts aboard the space shuttle gazed down upon the magnificent blue marble called Earth, they saw a blond woman in a Range Rover blocking the intersection, talking on her cell phone, desperately trying to get to yoga class so she could relax.
On a global scale, verbal pollution from automotive cell phone chatter and the angry heat emanating from frustrated motorists is tearing a bigger hole in the ozone layer. It's time to act. Now you might be asking, `What can I do? This seems like a job for government.' Well, there are things each of us can do individually. First, if someone calls you from their car, hang up on them. When they call back, hang up on them again, and just repeat this over and over. They won't know it, but you may be saving their life. Twenty-five percent of crashes are related to distractions, including cell phones. Generally speaking, if anyone calls you on a cell phone from a retail store, the bank, the post office, a movie theater or restaurant, hang up on them.
Now there is a role for government to cut down on traffic congestion caused by cell phone users. The easiest solution would be to mandate new features on every cell phone manufactured. Besides caller ID, phones should feature location ID. Then you know who is calling and if they're calling from a car. Then hang up on them with confidence.
Some cell phone calls from the car are necessary, yes. For those times, you can be ready with a feature called the `bore' button. Push one button, and a caller would hear an automated response that you've grown tired and bored. This intermediary terminates the call for you. Traffic flows smoother. It's a win-win. Other features are the mom mute for when your mom calls from her car to tell you about her new titanium knee. And `roaming from conversation' button for those time when a driver can't remember why they called you, or this feature would automatically hang up on a caller after five seconds of silence.
Sure, government can do more, like getting BlackBerrys off the road and federal streamlining of ringtones in public spaces. But for now, change must come from the local level. When people call us from their cars, we've just got to hang up on them. And that is today's Unger Report. I'm Brian Unger.
(Soundbite of telephone ringing)
UNGER: Hello, it's Brian.
Unidentified Caller: Hey, the traffic's really bad on the 405. How you doing there, Bri...
(Soundbite of handset being placed in cradle; busy signal)
BRAND: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.
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