Please Put The Phone Down

Jun 1, 2017

Today I’m returning to a topic I have talked about before.  Based on further experience, it’s important enough to remain a constant topic of discussion.

And that is the use of cell phones while driving.

Since moving to East Hill, riding my bike has become a primary form of transportation. During our year on Pensacola Beach I rode bikes a lot, but mainly for exercise. I did ride to stores and restaurants, but the trips were usually short, given the layout of the beach. And, an important point, the beach bike path minimized riding on major roads.

In East Hill and my growing number of trips downtown, by necessity more riding is done on roads shared with automobiles. And there are many more, and bigger, intersections to cross.

One thing a bike does is put you right next to cars in a way that makes it easy to observe what drivers are doing. And what I see is a distressingly growing number of drivers with one hand on the wheel, and the other holding a cell phone, often up at eye level. But many drivers still think it unwise to advertise their cell phone usage so openly, and hold them on their laps, which draws their eyes down.

Especially worrisome is seeing more drivers than I can count cruise through intersections these days with their eyes glued to their phones.

And a growing, and dangerous, trend is drivers who intend to make a right turn, but are so absorbed in their phones they don’t bother to use turn signals. For a biker or pedestrian looking to cross a busy intersection, it is important to know the intent of cars that might make a right turn through the intersection. I recently got a scare when a driver pulled up to the intersection I was waiting to cross and stopped at the light. Because she did not turn right after stopping, and did not have a flashing turn signal, I assumed she was going straight. So when the light turned, I began to cross the street only to have her whip into a right turn. Directly behind her came a second woman, face glued to her phone, who also made a right turn without a turn signal.

Now, at the risk of being called sexist, honesty compels me to tell you that although this is strictly anecdotal, personal observation tells me that cell phone use by drivers is far more prevalent among women, especially young women. While I do see growing numbers of men using their phones, months of regular bike riding implicates women as the primary offenders. In fact, I’m now mildly surprised when a young woman drives past me and I don’t see her phone.

Actual research indicates that in terms of safety, using a cell phone is at least as bad as drunken driving, if not worse. In 2014, USA Today reported that National Safety Council statistics showed that 1 in 4 highway accidents were caused by cell phone usage; surprisingly, texting was not the major cause, rather it was just the use of a cell phone, whether hand-held or hands-free. I have to think it’s worse today.

People should stop using cell phones behind the wheel, but I don’t think they will. My only hope is that law enforcement investigates cell phone usage in every accident investigation, and prosecutes it as vigorously as drunken driving.