How Your Cell Phone Could Kill You (or Your Kids)

Health & Wellness on 08.15.11
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Photo: Hola images/Corbis

In the years I spent working in the chemical Industry, the health and safety of workers was part of my responsibility. Over the past decades, tremendous strides were made in preventing workplace accidents. And then a funny thing happened. We started running out of things to fix in order to prevent accidents.

Looking at the statistics to determine what "preventable root causes" to attack next, we found a strange fact staring us in the faces. Cell phones -- whether used when driving on the job, commuting, or on personal time -- now stood as one of the major preventable causes of accidents.

Could we extend the long arm of corporate safety into people's private lives to ban driving while talking or texting? Well, we already got around those pesky personal privacy laws to get employees to "volunteer" for drug tests if they wanted to be employed. So companies started gathering facts. And the facts were startling.

Talking or texting while driving can be equated with driving drunk, in terms of how it affects the driver's reaction times and awareness of surroundings. Since you take care to keep your child safe in the car, you would never dream of driving drunk with your baby on board.

But as states pass laws prohibiting using a cell phone while driving, but allowing hands-free devices, the wrong message is sent. These laws seem to imply that having your hands busy creates a hazard. But no! The root of the problem stems from having your brain busy.

 But you talk with passengers and never had an accident, you may be thinking. This is misleading. The other person in the car is a second pair of eyes on the scene. Their reaction triggers driver reaction when conditions change. But the person on the other end of a cell phone has no idea if your light just turned red or another car appears to be ignoring their yield sign.

The good news is that drivers appear to be getting the right message. According to a new Harris poll (2,163 adults surveyed online between 13 and 20 June 2011), the percentage of adults who use a cell phone while driving has dropped from 73% in 2006 to 60%. The bad news is that still well over half of drivers still are driving distracted.

So put your phone on mute and your brain in drive when you are travelling by car. Spread the word to friends and relatives. The life you save may be your kid's.

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