I'll admit up front that this post is not technically Jewish, but it's something that's been on my mind for a while. And, since Judaism places such an intensely high value on Pikuach Nefesh, the requirement to save a life, whenever possible, I can feel justified about posting it. At the risk of being melodramatic, this really could save your life.
A couple of days ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released research which reconfirms what several other studies have shown in the past few years: talking on a cell phone while driving is dangerous. In fact, it seems to be the statistical equivalent of having a .08 Blood Alcohol Level - the legal limit here in Florida. You are 4 times more likely to be in an accident if you're talking on the phone while driving than if you're not.
Now, here's the part that really gets people: it makes essentially no difference if you use a hand-held phone or a hands-free phone. Talking on a earpiece or via a Bluetooth speaker does not, in any way, make you safer. It's not about the use of your hands; it's about the distraction*.
* there is a side issue here which I find fascinating. These results are not new, but when I've brought them up before, people always reject them. Tell a normal, smart person that talking hands-free is just as dangerous as hand-held, and they'll often tell you that you're wrong. Tell them that there is science to back that up, and they'll deny it, or claim it doesn't apply to them, or say that the science is wrong, without ever looking at it. Think about that the next time someone claims that people are essentially logical.
I rarely talk on the phone while driving, but I do it sometimes. Several times, I've claimed that I won't do it any more, but I always make exceptions - just a quick call home, on a road I know well. No big deal, right? Well, maybe I'll be better if I do this publicly: I hereby promise and declare (our religion forbids me to swear, so I won't do it) that I will no longer use a cell phone while driving. I won't do it a little. I won't do it for a moment. Nothing I have to say is worth quadrupling my chances of being in an accident. It can wait.
But, here's where things get really sticky. If I was sitting in a car, and the driver pulled out a beer, would anyone begrudge me the right to say, "Please stop that. It's incredibly unsafe, and it makes me wildly uncomfortable"? Would anyone call me insane if I insisted on getting out of the car, right then and there, no matter where we were? How about this - would you think I was nuts if I chastised you for drinking and driving, even if I wasn't in the car with you? Probably not. But, what about with a phone? Don't I now, given what we know, have the right to ask others to not use the phone while I'm in the car? And, if a friend or loved-one calls me from the car, isn't it only friendly and loving for me to say, "This really isn't safe. Please give me a call when you're not driving, ok?" I've thought about doing that many times, but I've never been brave enough. I feel like a nudnick - like an annoying zealot.
Look, I'm sorry to be a pest, but we have to face reality. If you talk on the phone while driving, you are putting yourself, and others, in danger. No matter why you think it's not true, it is. Put down the phone, and get home safely.