Time to Defend Wireless Right to Bear Cell Phones

SAN MATEO (07/17/2000) - In light of the recent legislative proposals popping up around the country to limit use of cell phones while driving, I got to thinking that maybe Charlton Heston is right.

The National Rifle Association mantra has always been, if you let Them take away your right to own an Uzi, next it will be your .22, and then, once you're unable to defend yourself, They'll start taking away your right to free speech.

But California wants to do that to me now. Legislation will prohibit my right to speak on a cell phone while driving, unless of course, I do it in the prescribed manner; that is, in hands-free mode.

The belief is that simultaneously holding onto and talking on the phone is distracting and impairs my ability to drive. You know what? I've noticed it also distracts and impairs the ability of other drivers. They are too busy staring at me, mouthing obscenities as they pass by, instead of watching the road.

Besides, the only way to drive and use a phone hands-free is with a headset, but, unfortunately, most cell phones don't have voice-activated dialing so I guess I'll have to pull over to the shoulder on the freeway to place the call.

Getting back on the highway safely shouldn't be a problem, right?

Pennsylvanians won't be pulled over by the state police for using a cell phone.

But when pulled over for any other infraction, such as driving with a dirty windshield, the trooper may also cite you for operating the vehicle in an unsafe manner if he eyeballed you with a cell phone in your ear. Your only hope is that they put the word "cell" in the legislation, and then if you have a phone that does not use the cellular network, they'd have to throw out the case on a technicality.

Of course, there may be other ways to beat the rap or at least get a reduced sentence. You can opt to become what's euphemistically called a cooperative witness by snitching on the guy on the other end of the line who was also driving while under the influence of the next big deal (known as NBD here in Silicon Valley).

There's no percentage in not ratting on your buddy because they can always confiscate your phone and catch him red-handed by dialing *69.

Although I see the legislators' point, and I know all about the recent studies that indicate more accidents have been caused by drivers on the phone than drunk drivers, the problem will not be solved by legislating hands-free operation. Nor by Detroit building in mobile phones with speakers and voice dialing. Those options still leave plenty of room for drivers to operate their vehicles mind-free. Which is something I notice many California drivers do anyway, with or without a cell phone.

Isn't it obvious that the distraction does not come from your hand pressing the phone to your head, but your head concentrating on the upside potential of the NBD? I recently saw a pedestrian, under his own steam, so to speak, literally walk into a tree while talking on his cell phone. I'd hate to think what could have happened if he were also chewing gum!

If, for whatever reason, it is decided that operating a motor vehicle while wheeling and dealing over the phone is dangerous, I suggest these politicians try operating a motor vehicle with two kids in the backseat.

Now how are they going to legislate against that?

Where do you stand on wheeling and dealing? Send e-mail to me at ephraim_schwartz@infoworld.com.

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