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WINTER Wear: An avocet wades in the Bear River to look for a tasty snack. The bird's black-and-white winter plumage heralds the onset of cold weather. / Photo by Mike Sweeney

Today's word on journalism

Friday, November 11, 2005

On journalists during wartime (for Veterans Day):

"[I]n the news media that covered the war both overseas and domestically, journalists also were willing to cooperate and do their
part. The public did not see journalists (and journalists did not see themselves) as being against the team. Journalists were part of the team. Some, such as roving correspondent Ernie Pyle, repeatedly visited combat zones even though they did not have to do so, and they paid with their lives."

--Michael S. Sweeney, press historian, 2001 (from "Secrets of Victory," about censorship during WWII)


Hang up your cell phone and drive

By Sarah West

October 19, 2005 | This summer, while driving on I-80 in Salt Lake City, my friend and I almost got in an accident. We were in the far left lane while a woman, on her cell phone, was next to us. She seemed rather engrossed in her conversation when I noticed her veering into my lane. I immediately slammed on my brakes and attempted to get over in the shoulder to avoid being hit. The woman didn't even notice what she had done, as she obliviously sped off. Apparently whomever she was talking to was more important than paying attention to the road.

A few years earlier, my friend and I were getting off a busy exit. She was on her cell phone and rear-ended the car in front of us. She immediately hung up the phone in hopes that the car she'd rear-ended hadn't noticed she'd been on the phone. Luckily no major damage or injuries occurred, but this is just another instance proving that talking on cell phones when driving has been detrimental to the driver's ability to focus on the road.

Cars can be extremely dangerous to begin with, causing 42,000 deaths each year in the United States in auto accidents. But add to the mix a cell phone, distracting drivers and taking their mind and eyes off the road, and there exists a very dangerous situation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports driving while on cell phones causes at least a quarter of all crashes. The NHTSA also stated that at any given moment of the day 500,000 drivers of passenger vehicles are talking on handheld cell phones.

Because of the increase in cell phone ownership, the number of accidents related to cell phone use while driving will continue to go up. Cell phone distraction causes 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries every year in the United States alone, according to the journal Human Factor.

University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer says, "If you put a 20-year-old driver behind the wheel with a cell phone, their reaction times are the same as a 70-year-old driver who is not using a cell phone." Strayer and his colleagues also discovered that "chatty motorists are less adept than drunken drivers with blood alcohol levels exceeding 0.08."

Cell phones themselves aren't the danger. But it's the danger they bring when someone is trying to operate a vehicle and talk on the phone at the same time. A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found those using hands-free cell phones were just as much at risk for distraction than those using hand-held cell phones. Even though driver's hands wouldn't be holding the phone, their minds would be on the conversation, not on the road.

At least 40 countries have prohibited or restricted talking on cell phones while driving. New York has implemented a restriction on cell phone use while driving, so why haven't more states followed in its steps? The hazard is there and state legislatures should do something about it. Perhaps they think the convenience of cell phones outweighs the risk. Whatever the reason, they need to re-evaluate what they think is important: the convenience of technology, or the safety of their citizens.

Cell phones can be beneficial, however they need to be used in a safe environment which, despite popular belief, isn't in a moving car. Cell phones can be used to inform others of accidents, help you in emergency situations, get directions when lost and many other occasions. But the next time you're driving and your cell phones rings, don't answer if the call can wait to be taken. If you do need to answer, pull over a safe distance away from traffic. Better yet, if there's a passenger in the car with you, let them do the talking so you can concentrate on what you should be in the first place; the road.


Copyright 1997-2005 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-1000
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