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From Reader’s Digest:

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) just held a two-day summit about the hazards of “distracted driving,” which includes texting and talking on a cell phone while at the wheel. But researchers knew the dangers back in 2003, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) collected data showing that cell phone use had caused 240,000 accidents the previous year.

Today, the government estimates that more than 500,000 people were injured and 5,870 were killed last year in crashes involving driver distraction, in many cases because of cell phone use. “Years went by when lives could have been saved,” one California legislator said.

It took a Freedom of Information Act request by nonprofit watchdog groups to uncover the NHTSA’s findings. Turns out that more than six years ago, the agency’s researchers drafted a letter warning that a crackdown on vehicular cell phone use was necessary to prevent future deaths. But DOT officials convinced them not to mail it and to bury the findings instead. Congress had warned the DOT not to lobby for new laws, and department officials worried that releasing the report could antagonize powerful lawmakers and jeopardize the DOT’s funding.


These kinds of stories always bring me back to one of my favorite articles regarding cell phones and driving. Excerpt:

Those two experiences combined make me think phoning and driving is about as safe as reading a book and driving.

But why? I can talk with a passenger and drive. I can listen to the radio and drive. I can even listen to the radio, drink a Big Gulp, and air guitar while I drive. Why not chat on the phone?

Enter Marshall McLuhan, the media maven, Catholic convert, and daily communicant. A household name in the 1960s, he’s become something of a cult figure today. I hear his name mentioned occasionally on TV shows, probably because producers took the college communication courses that still teach McLuhan or reference his works. I searched the Internet to find articles about McLuhan and the cell phone, but there’s not much out there.

So I pulled down his magnum opus, Understanding Media, to find an answer. It didn’t take long. McLuhan had a stark opinion: “The telephone demands complete participation.” He pointed out that some people could scarcely talk to their best friends on the phone without becoming angry, precisely because it’s such a demanding medium.

He said the telephone is extremely hard to resist, asking “Why should we feel compelled to answer a ringing public phone when we know the call cannot concern us? Why does a phone ringing on the stage create instant tension? Why is that tension so very much less for an unanswered phone in a movie scene? The answer to all of these questions is simply that the phone is a participant form that demands a partner, with all the intensity of electric polarity.”