I'd like to say a few words about car phones and cupholders. You may not agree with me.
I think both are potential safety hazards, and I wish every state would adopt strict laws governing their use and/or availability.
When my father taught me to drive 60 years ago, he covered all the mechanical aspects - starting, stopping, turning, backing, parking - and he stressed attention to traffic lights and road signs.
But most of all, he drummed into me the two most important rules of operating a motor vehicle:
Keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times.
Keep your eyes on the road at all times.
Users of car phones violate those rules as a matter of course. One hand holds the telephone. The other often gesticulates or chops the air to drive home a point, just as in a face-to-face conversation. The car had better be able to steer itself.
Eyes on the road? Don't make me laugh. For a telephoning driver, the call is the center of attention, not the road.
A personal experience: A few years ago, I was en route to the airport with my nephew. We were going to San Francisco to attend a family wedding.
Jamie had to call his office. It figured; he was the boss, and he had to leave instructions about what he wanted done in his absence.
The conversation did not go well. Jamie raised his voice. He pounded his right fist on the console. The freeway was strictly a secondary consideration. And he was driving 65 mph.
I was scared. I caught his attention and told him, 'Hang up the damn phone or let me out of the car.' He got the message, and we arrived safely at the airport.
Or maybe you read about George Jones, the country music legend. A few weeks ago, Jones was injured critically when his car rammed a bridge abutment near his home in Connecticut.
Jones was talking on his car phone at the time of the crash. According to news reports, he wasn't wearing a seat belt. I thought he was smarter than that.
Fortunately, Jones is recovering. I wonder whether his driving habits will change.
Car phones are good. They save time; they facilitate business; they bring help to stranded motorists. But a phone should never be used by a driver while his or her vehicle is in motion. Maybe such an offense should penalize the driver at least four points in states that use a point system.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studied the matter and concluded that 'the available evidence is adequate to support the conclusion' that use of a cellular telephone while driving increases the risk of a crash.
NHTSA was unable to assess the magnitude of the problem because 'telephone use while driving is currently inadequately reported in crash records.'
And interviewing drivers isn't the answer. Not many will admit, 'I hit that car because I was talking on my telephone.'
The study reported that 'driver inattention' is the major factor in crashes involving phone use. Keep in mind that at 65 mph, a vehicle is traveling 95.3 feet per second. At that speed, the driver who is inattentive for 3 seconds while punching in a phone number has traveled 286 feet - a football field is 300 feet from goal line to goal line. Untold grief can occur in 286 feet of inattentive driving.
And the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported on a University of Toronto study that found the risk of collision when using a cellular phone was four times greater than the risk when a cellular phone was not being used. That study also said the use of hands-free phones appeared to make no difference in crash risk. Driver inattention also was cited as a crash-risk factor in the Canadian report.
So let's move on to cupholders. I think they're a joke, and the race among vehicle makers to install more of them than their rivals is ludicrous.
But we're talking about safety, and a cupholder for the driver can be a very real safety hazard.
Have you ever seen a driver searching for a cupholder while holding a steaming cup of coffee in a hand that should be on the steering wheel? Failing to find the holder, the driver takes his eyes from the road and searches the car until he locates it.
The result: He doesn't have both hands on the wheel, and he doesn't have his eyes on the road.
The solution is simple - maybe an edict to automakers from NHTSA: Thou shalt not place a cupholder within reach of the driver.
It's only common sense. A driver should not be quaffing coffee, tea, milk, water, soup, cola - whatever - while the car is in motion. Driving is a full-time job.
OK, you're mad at this not-with-it news guy who dares to speak against two of the 'necessities' of today's driving.
I told you that you might not agree with me.
John K. Teahen Jr. may be reached at (313) 446-0362, or by e-mail at [email protected]