They weave. They wander. They swerve. They suddenly slow down for no apparent reason, and then accelerate as if roaring into the straightaway on a NASCAR track.
They run red lights, stop on green, turn right on red without stopping first. They can easily violate three or four traffic laws in the space of a city block.
You know who they are. You might be one of them.
Anytime I see someone driving erratically, I think, "I'll bet a thousand bucks this idiot is talking on the phone."
If I could ever find some patsy to bet against me, I'd be rolling in dough.
According to a report on NBC's "Nightly News," well in excess of 100 million Americans own cellphones, and 85 percent of these folks say they use their phones while driving.
So what, you say? Isn't modern technology terrific, you say? Shouldn't everyone be thrilled that we no longer have to get off the highway and hunt up a pay phone when we need to make a call?
With all due respect to our magnificent age of wireless communication, perhaps we should consider an alarming statistic mentioned by Tom Brokaw in his intro to NBC's cellphone story. The anchorman quoted a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that said using a hand-held cellphone while driving "quadruples" the risk of a collision.
The report obviously was referring to collisions between vehicles. But pedestrians are sitting ducks for the driver/phoner crowd, too.
I was crossing a street in Fort Worth the other day - with the "Walk" light - when I looked up and saw a car bearing down on me at breakneck speed. It stopped just in time to spare me the indignity of leaving the scene in an ambulance. Once the car did finally stop, I noticed that the driver - surprise! - was talking on the phone.
The NBC report included results of an insurance company survey of people who talk on the phone while driving: 46 percent admitted swerving into another lane; 21 percent owned up to cutting off another car; 10 percent confessed to running a red light.
Those are just the people who "admitted" such transgressions. How many more do you suppose are committing similar infractions - and worse?
NBC tied its story to last week's car crash that left supermodel Niki Taylor in critical condition at an Atlanta hospital. Taylor suffered massive internal injuries while riding in a car that smashed into a telephone pole after the driver looked down to pick up his cellphone.
The Associated Press quoted the driver's interview with ABC's "Good Morning America":
"For just a moment, I was distracted by something that was not part of what I should've been doing at the moment, which was driving, and the result of that has changed the lives of three people and their families.
"Think about things like that. There's nothing on that phone that can be nearly as important as what's going on in front of you."
NBC quoted a Chicago doctor who often treats victims of accidents caused by cellphone use and other driver distractions: "I think you have to ask yourself when you're driving, is it absolutely that important that I answer this page or that I make this phone call right now while I'm driving?"
It's apparent from the most cursory observation that many of these talk-and-drive types aren't just responding to occasional pages or making important phone calls. They appear to be gabbing away constantly, making one call after another - even looking up phone numbers between their calls and their half-hearted stabs at careful driving.
There oughta be a law.
Actually, laws have been adopted here and there. NBC said that two New York counties have mounted major crackdowns on phoners/drivers and that Connecticut legislators may be close to adopting the nation's first statewide restrictions.
State and local governments would not need to pass laws, of course, if drivers would just do the right thing: Want to talk on the phone? Get off the road.
Bill Thompson is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. (c) 2001, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune.
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