Friday, April 3, 1998
By Jennifer Bresnahan
Capital News Service
LANSING- Whether you're calling home, setting up an appointment or talking to a friend on a phone while driving, you're increasing your risk for an accident.
It's a road hazard bound to get worse in coming years, with projections that the current number of cellular phones-- 54 million nationwide-- could double by 2000, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report.
An estimated 1.9 million Michigan residents have cell phones.
"As cars more and more become an extension of the home and office, we're creating a whole new array of potentially hazardous distractions," said NHTSA Administrator Ricardo Martinez.
The report stopped short, however, of recommending legal restrictions on cell phone use when driving. And that's just fine with Michiganians such as Kris Carpenter of Niles.
"The solution is the hands-free speaker phone," said Carpenter, 43, who uses her cell phone to keep up with her two children. "It's not necessarily a cheap solution, but it's far preferable to taking away our phones, which would be absurd."
Cellular One in St. Joseph says the additional installation costs are about $200, which is a one time fee on top of normal monthly fees.
Only two states, Minnesota and Oklahoma, routinely collect data on traffic accident reports that "included cellular phone use as a possible distraction inside the vehicle."
According to state police, Michigan will start gathering similar information in 1999.
Although Niles police don't inquire about possible accidents caused by distracted cell phone users, operations Inspector Larry Aldridge believes there is a big problem with motorists using the devices.
"You need to be defensive while driving and you just can't do that when you are talking on the phone," Aldridge said. "I believe there should be some legislation or restrictions on cell phone use."
Currently, no legislation has been introduced in Michigan.
"For most drivers, anything that's a distraction-- a passenger, the radio, your cellular phone-- can get in the way of your concentration," said Jerry Basch, manager of community safety for AAA Michigan. "But there are ways to minimize the distraction."
To help increase concentration while driving with a cellular phone, AAA Michigan has these tips:
Place calls while stopped or have someone dial for you.
Use the cell phone in the "hands-free" mode.
Avoid intense or complicated conversations.
Assess traffic conditions before placing a call.
Ensure the phone is within easy reach.
Use "memory dial" to minimize dialing time.
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