Mayfield: Cars and cell phone – a bad mix
Thirty-five years ago this summer I quit smoking and I can still remember the agony of withdrawal to this very day. I went to bed for three days. My hair hurt. My head ached. My hands trembled, but somehow I managed to go from 30 ciggies a day to none in the course of those 72 hours, and I’ve stayed on the wagon ever since. But it certainly wasn’t easy. I still have a great deal of empathy for folk who are struggling with the N drug. I know for a personal fact how difficult it is to give it up.
I took my leap after watching a PBS program on the dangers of smoking that included graphic images of lungs and hearts that had once been inside smokers’ bodies. The evidence was painfully irrefutable, and I was compelled by that evidence to give it up.
This week I became aware of some other startling and disturbing evidence that demands a similar response. Hundreds of pages of documentation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicate that driving a vehicle while talking on a cell-phone is as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. Research in 2002 reveals that nearly a thousand fatalities that year and 240,000 accidents were the direct result of driving while engaged in a cell-phone conversation.
What may be equally disturbing is that this information was withheld from the public by direct orders from the U.S. Department of Transportation for fear that it would affect billions of dollars in future financing. The similarities between this cover-up and the aggressive tactics of the tobacco industry to deny the dangers of smoking are strikingly parallel and point, once again, to the role money and profit play in our political processes.
One can fairly assume that the multi-billion dollar cell-phone industry would be highly anxious to avoid any link between the use of their products and carnage on the highways. Just as the tobacco industry poured millions of dollars into attempting to block any governmental restrictions upon their deadly products, one can easily imagine the cell-phone industry attempting to wield a similar campaign behind the closed doors of the Department of Transportation and the Congress.
In any case, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, the evidence is now public and politicians will find it increasingly difficult to avoid their sworn duty to protect the citizenry from the danger of distracted drivers. The Department of Transportation’s own data now indicates that at any given time 12 percent of all drivers are engaged in cell-phone conversations.
I doubt there isn’t a person reading this who can’t immediately recall a time when someone either caused or nearly caused an accident while being distracted by a phone conversation. This newly released evidence only confirms what most of us have witnessed innumerable times. The question now is whether the government will take action against this dangerous behavior.
If you’re anywhere near as old as me, you will probably remember the advertisements in magazines like Life and Time that depicted doctors lighting up their favorite cigarettes. The now astounding claims were for everything from calming the nerves to soothing the throat. Everyone smoked. How could it be bad for you?
When the evidence finally was made clear and the government forced the tobacco industry to print those sobering words on the side of every pack and in the corner of every advertisement, millions of addicts broke free from their dangerous habit.
Will this new evidence create a similar effect? Will a sensible citizenry combine with responsible political leaders to ban this obviously dangerous practice?
I quit smoking before the current plethora of prohibitions on smoking were put into effect. Scientific evidence convinced me of the dangers of my habit before the government began enacting laws. Will I be able to do the same again?
My hair is already beginning to hurt.
Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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