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Silencing the Squawk Box

Cellular Phone Users are Dangerous on Highways, Annoying in Theaters

Michael J. Ring

The wireless cavalry of road warriors cruising across the nation has hit a roadblock in America’s heartland.

The city of Brooklyn, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, has outlawed talking on those cellular monstrosities while a motor vehicle is in operation unless a driver can keep both hands on the wheel. While police are currently giving warnings, beginning next month they will enforce fines of up to $100 against the traffic scofflaws.

The need for this law should be crystal clear to anyone who has ever been cut off by a swerving gabber on the expressway. Cellular phone users pay attention to their conversations, not the road. And when a talk-happy motorist possesses a hand-held phone and must take (at least) one hand off the wheel to chatter, the recipe for traffic disaster is even greater.

Two organizations have concluded that cellular phone use while driving is a major handicap to safe operation of a motor vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that using a cell phone while driving increases one’s chance of being involved in an accident. And a study in The New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that cellular phone use quadruples one’s chances of being involved in a collision.

Hurried, self-important yuppie businessmen are sure to dislike the new regulation, but Brooklyn’s ordinance is a needed safety measure and should be adopted by communities around the nation. A motorist forced to pull over to make or receive a cellular phone call is a motorist who is not going to run down a child or rear-end another car because he or she was paying more attention to the phone than the road.

These new traffic regulations are not the only new restrictions that target cellular phone users. Slowly, restaurants and other public accommodations are beginning to restrict cellular phone usage. Many in the public are also growing tired of the incessant interruptions caused by cell phones.

You know the typical scenario: you’ve forked over nine bucks for some cramped theater seat, your feet planted in a sticky film of dried cola. After adjusting yourself into a position from which you can see over those in front of you, you finally begin to enjoy the film. And then ... zap! The shrill ring of a cellular phone echoes through the theater, taking your concentration off the movie and focusing your thoughts on vigilante justice against the cell phone aristocracy.

You can probably guess I don’t own a cellular phone, nor do I want one. The price and terms of those service contracts seems exorbitant to a Scrooge like myself. E-mail suits my needs for conversation fine.

Of course, when away from computers, one no longer has access to e-mail, but can still receive telephone calls through a cellular device. But in this seeming convenience is the most baneful quality of the cellular phone.

Ownership of a cellular phone is a form of involuntary servitude. The device is a tether to which you are tied, able to be reached, summoned, and chastised -- instantly. There is no escape from those protruding phone waves; they will find you just about anywhere you may be.

And there are quite a few times I’d like to be left alone. For example, the last thing I’d want during my commute is to be contacted by a co-worker. Even the best jobs can feel like prisons from time to time, and that afternoon commute is a jailbreak from the concerns of the workplace. Sure, a gridlocked expressway or crowded train isn’t exactly nirvana, but why spoil the little rest and satisfaction you can get from escaping the workplace (at least for the evening) by suddenly being bombarded with a job-related concern?

And after working slavishly in the office through long hours, and having earned a day off, who could enjoy being summoned from the park or beach back to work for an “emergency”?

About 69 million Americans now use cellular telephones. Certainly, a good fraction of these users are salespeople or frequent travelers. And a cellular phone is a handy safety tool for those traveling late at night or through rural areas. But how many of those 69 million really need a cellular phone? More than a few cellular phone users have one because they think it makes them look cool or fashionable -- or gives them an inflated self-importance.

So to those whose jobs or security rely on a cellular telephone, I say drive carefully and beware the addiction. But to those who have fallen under the influence of the crack cocaine of telecommunications toys, you’d better turn off that squawk box in the restaurant and movie theater. And most importantly, remember, the Brooklyn, Ohio police will be ready to enforce a needed dose of traffic justice on cellular criminals, so pull that ozone-depleting SUV off the road to talk!