Driving gets in the way of good phone conversation

"People in Southern Nevada, and even up here (Carson City), they're in traffic all the time and driving can be productive on cellular phones." - Lobbyist for cell phone companies testifying on a failed bill to ban "hands-on" car phones in Nevada.

So I'm driving down the street talking on the phone when a report comes on the news that New York has banned car phones.

"You're not going to believe this," I tell my friend on the other end of the cell phone, swerving to avoid the pedestrian in the crosswalk. "Those idiots in New York have just banned cell phones in cars."

"You've got to be kidding," my friend replies from his car phone across town, his boom box blaring in the background. "How do they plan to enforce that one?"

"Beats me," I answer, running over a poor cat that happened to catch me in mid-sentence. "I've got to call Fred and tell him. Talk to you later."

I hang up and grab my phone book, which I keep on the passenger-side floorboard. With my cell phone tucked safely between my chin and ear, I flip through the pages looking for Fred's number. My knees steer the car, just in case I need to make a quick maneuver.

Something thumps beneath my tires and I make a mental note to have them checked.

"Hey, Fred!" I shout into the phone. "Did you hear what they did in New York with the phones?"

Someone behind me honks his horn and I notice that I missed the red light.

"What phones?" asks Fred.

"Car phones," I explain. "You can't talk on the cell phone anymore while driving in New York."

I've somehow driven onto the sidewalk.

"Hang on a minute, Fred. I seem to be on the sidewalk." Putting down my cup of coffee and shoving the newspaper and phone book off to the side, I make a quick turn and I'm back on the street.

"Sorry, Fred," I say to Fred. "I had to drive for a minute. What were you saying?"

Sadly, this story is not far from the truth. I have been sucked into this Cell Phone Evolution hook, line and sinker.

I rarely get incoming calls. Most people can probably wait until I stop driving before calling to discuss important matters. They've probably read where one of every two drivers has been drinking and many of them have compounded that by talking on the phone. Drunks just love to talk.

But I hate to see that phone just sit there, so I'll grab it and call my office to see if there are important messages.

Prior to cell phones I'd wait until I stopped driving before checking in. If it was important I'd look for a phone booth. You know...those things Superman used to get dressed in. Times were slower then. Things didn't seem as urgent. We had more time to think about steering, braking and all the other little details associated with moving a 2,000-pound hunk of steel down a highway.

Cell phone remind us how important we've become. Those things that can't wait for us to stop driving. "Yes. I'd like to order a pizza," we say importantly into our car phones. "I'm pulling into your parking lot right now and I'll be there in around 30 seconds."

Sometimes we pick up our cell phones just to look important.

"Yes, Phil. This is Jeff," I say. "That important thing we were talking about the other day. I think we should just do it while it's still important."

It's particularly impressive in airports, where everyone in the terminal is talking on cell phones simultaneously. "Yes, John. I met with Joe and he said we could double our important thing if we invest in that other important thing tomorrow."

John is standing in the same Starbucks line three feet away.

My mother-in-law even has a cell phone now. She uses it inside my house, forgetting that there is a regular phone in the kitchen. She's been retired for several years and there isn't much that comes under the category of "urgent" in her life. She called her house in Southern California from her cell phone while sitting at my kitchen table Sunday morning.

"Did you remember to bring the flag into the house?" she asked someone on the other end.

Cell phones are great for emergencies, however. My wife and I were driving to Reno for dinner a few weeks ago and noticed a car off to the side of the road in Washoe Valley. I stopped and discovered a woman was having a heart attack behind the wheel. I got so excited I dialed 4-1-1 instead of 9-1-1. I got information and the poor kid on the other end couldn't figure out what he had to do with getting me an ambulance.

"I'm information!" he cried. "I give phone numbers, not ambulances. Try calling 9-1-1."

Fortunately, things turned out okay for the woman in spite of my cell phone fumble. I guess I wasn't used to using a cell phone for an actual crisis.

We continued on our way to the restaurant and I called Fred on my cell phone.

"You're not going to believe what just happened," I told Fred, running over a family of quail. "This woman is pulled over and having a heart attack and..."

Jeff Ackerman is publisher and editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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