City Desk

Hang Up, Wouldja? Okay, Just One More Call…

I had quite a lot of time to think about my new personal ban on cell phone use while driving as I inched along the Beltway this morning on my way to the office.

I decided to take that step the other day after reading the New York Times' extensive story on the subject, Driven to Distraction.

Studies say that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers, and the likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe.

We may as well all be driving around drunk, people! Even if we're using our Bluetooth! That's frightening!

I took a little visual poll, looking into each car I passed to see who was doing what with their phones. On the left: woman texting. On the right: man talking. And another, and another, and another.

I got all indignant, angry that these people were endangering my life just because they had to – right now, this instant – talk.

Then I looked over at the passenger seat, where my iPhone was sitting, and broke my two-day-old ban myself. Twice.

First I read a text from my husband ("The therapist just dislocated my shoulder. I can't believe she did that. Now it hurts like a mo fo."). Then I called him to see if he was okay.

I think I may have to do what one guy quoted in the Times' story did: put the thing in the trunk. That was the only way he could break himself of the habit, even after his son was killed in 2004 after being hit by a woman talking on her phone.

But then: What if I really, really need it?

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  • Ryan

    I agree completely with the legislation that has been passed in some areas to ban cell phone use while driving. The problem is this: how many people do you know that have ever received a citation for this? Personally, I don't know anyone and I imagine the fine is minimal. I fully support a more strict stance on this issue. Larger fines and more officers looking for law-breakers could definitely cut down on the problem. Aren't we looking for unemployment opportunities anyways? How bout some more cops. Maybe instead of throwing billions of dollars at stupid projects, we could focus on public safety a little more.

  • Q™

    It gets enforced in DC but not uniformly. In fact, I've seen more Police Officers and Law Enforcement types "driving while distracted" than citizens. Just this morning a young lady in a "FED" car was driving slow and sometimes erratically, not paying attention on 395S. DC Police (marked and unmarked), folks with Fraternal Order of Police and Metro Bus Drivers seem to be the worst offenders. Get ON a Hands Free or Get OFF the Road.

  • Q™

    Erika...please get a hands free speaker for your car or pull to the side of the road if you absolutely positively have to talk to ANYONE while you are driving. No one's life is worth the cost of an incidental 'just cause I wanna' phone call.

    Making matters worse, with Facebook and Twitter enabled on mobile phones, you can imagine what OTHER things people are doing. What's next, putting on make-up while talking on the phone while driving?!?

  • charlie

    Like Ryan's comment, I don't know anyone who has gotten a citation for talking on the phone while driving. But I do know someone who was hit by such a person.

  • Jamie

    I got a citation for cell phone use while driving. Except I was at a red light and checking my voicemail, because I had chosen NOT to answer the phone when it rang while I was driving before because I actually believe it's not safe.

    Totally awesome. Besides which the letter of the DC law even says "while in a moving vehicle." I contested it and never heard back (it's been a year I think) so I guess they let me off, or it got lost in the black hole of DC and I'll probably find out my license has been suspended the next time I'm pulled over for anything.

  • Q™

    Jaime, actually the officer enforced it correctly. I was given a warning when this ordinance was first started for doing the same thing. The fact that the vehicle is on, regardless of braking, constitutes a violation. Whether the car is in motion, in the process of stopping, etc. it doesn't matter. The theory behind it is that you could release your brake at any moment or the light could change and you could be otherwise impaired.

    DC's Distracted Driver Ordinance is supposed to catch other non-cell phone examples, such as women applying make-up, etc. but that doesn't happen. I've seen people eating to a point that they were distracted. Oh well.

    BTW, Please don't assume that your ticket has been taken care of without calling DMV or checking the ticket website. I've seen strange things happen with loss tickets.

  • Q™

    Expect more tickets to come ...

  • Jamie

    Q, the officer did not enforce it correctly. That is why I clearly stated the letter of the law.,a,1240,q,547851,mpdcNav_GID,1552,mpdcNav,|.asp#prohibit

    "Specifically, the law states that no person shall use a mobile telephone or other electronic device while operating a moving motor vehicle."

    "Sec. 4. Restricted use of mobile telephone and other electronic devices.
    (a) No person shall use a mobile telephone or other electronic device while operating a
    moving motor vehicle in the District of Columbia unless the telephone or device is equipped with
    a hands-free accessory.

    Unless you disagree about the definition of the word "moving", sitting in a car with the engine running (at a red light, or anywhere else) is not "moving."

  • Jamie

    Oh I looked at that WTOP link. How interesting. What is strangely missing from that list of things they will be stepping up enforcement are SPEEDING and RED LIGHT RUNNING.

    Seriously?? Yet another money-making thing for DC. While the actual safety problems don't matter.

  • Q™

    Jaime, I understand your concern, but I think you disproved your point. The key word is "operating". "Moving vehicle" means a vehicle that has the capability of moving, not necessarily a vechicle in least that's the definition they use here. That's what the cop told me when he gave me the warning. I was clearly stopped at a light, but the burden of proof falls not on moving per se, but on operation of such vehicle that either will or has moved. One could argue this with a person who is parked while the car is running, but I think you understand what I'm saying here. Because the vehicle was present in the roadway in operable condition, regardless of degree of motion, you are still liable if you use the cell phone.

    Officers (and now DOT) are monitoring this so be warned that they are checking what's up to your ear and ambient light from cell phones.

    I agree with you that using a cell phone at a stop light is safer than using one (no hands free) while driving (or in motion). However, it is still against the law.

  • Jamie

    Umm, Q. If I said I was on a "moving train" would you think that the train could possible be sitting in the station? Or be doing anything other than, er, moving?

    It says "moving motor vehicle." A vehicle is, by definition, something that moves. Have you ever heard of a vehicle that doesn't move? The opposite would be a "stationary motor vehicle."

    The law is extraordinarily clear. If the intent was not to describe a car in motion, then what possible reason is there for the word "moving" to be included?

    I think any 5th grade grammar student would understand what "moving motor vehicle" means. Just because the cop didn't means nothing. You might be surprised to learn that police don't always enforce or understand the laws they enforce.

  • Jamie

    You may also have missed this part from MPDs page where they actually use the word "moving" to mean "not stopped" in describing how to interpret the law.

    "Q.What if the vehicle is stopped by the side of the road?
    A. The law applies only to drivers operating a moving motor vehicle. The law does not apply to vehicles that are stopped by the side of the road and not moving."

    They do not specifically address red lights one way or another. But it is clear from this that the use of the word "moving" is the obvious one, "in motion," as opposed to your interesting interpretation, "capable of motion", which I assume would be used like "moving picture" or "moving company." But I don't think very many people would think that a "moving motor vehicle" is something that you should step out of.