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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Just hang up on cell phone study

It's amazing that the American Automobile Association published a study purporting to show that only a tiny percentage —1.5 percent — of distracted drivers who crash their cars were using cellular phones at the time.

The drivers in the study were far more likely to blame a sunset, another driver, a short skirt, anything but their beloved cell phone.

But even the author of the study concedes that people who crash their cars while talking on cell phones won't admit it. Which means, in the words of another researcher, "this data is not reliable. The study is not accurate."

The other reason it's amazing that AAA published the study is that it flies in the face of everyday observation. Anyone who hasn't seen a driver run a red light or cut off another driver while talking on a cell phone must have been talking on a cell phone, too.

"I don't want people to think cell phones are not a big part of the problem," says the author of the study. "They are distracting." But she makes this important point: Cell phones are "just one of the things we do that puts us and other people on the road at risk."

And it's true: American drivers aren't just distracted by their cell phones, but by changing a CD, eating a hamburger or tending to a toddler. Still cell phones are a large and rapidly growing component of the problem.

No one has complained longer and louder about cell phone distractions on the highway than Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers, the National Public Radio automotive gurus. From their Web site, Cartalk.com, they write:

"Sick and tired of having your life endangered by drivers who are too self-important to put their phones down and pay attention to the road? So are we.

"The odds that you'll slam your jalopy into some other hapless driver — or your local guardrail — increase 400 percent when a cell phone is being used. Those are about the same odds as having an accident as when you're legally drunk.

"Driving and talking is dangerous. We know it. You know it. Even the cell phone industry flacks know it, though they'll never admit it."

Do us all a favor. Go to the Tappet Brothers' Web site and get a "Drive Now, Talk Later" bumper sticker and display it — "before," in the words of Click and Clack, "you or someone you love gets T-boned by a moron talking to his broker on a cell phone."