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by Abigail Van Buren

Cell Phones in Cars Add to Arsenal of Distraction

DEAR ABBY: As a longtime member of our local traffic safety commission and past volunteer AARP 55-Alive driving instructor, I wish to comment on the recent letter from Tom Lynch of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Mr. Lynch suggested that the use of cell phones is safe because truck drivers have used CB radios for many years. What he failed to add is that accidents involving trucks have increased dramatically in recent years. Part of the reason is the increased number of trucks on the road -- but how many others are due to inattentive driving because the driver was on the radio or otherwise occupied?

He also suggested that you will next advocate passing laws against tuning the radio while driving, looking at your passenger and conversing while driving, adjusting the temperature while driving or driving without adequate sleep. While I don't advocate laws preventing those activities, if drivers could be convinced to refrain from those practices, we would have much safer highways.

Driving is a full-time responsibility. Inattentive driving is the cause of more motor vehicle accidents than any other single activity, although it's not always listed on accident reports as such, because it's too difficult to prove in a court of law.

Thanks for your support of highway and driver safety, Abby. -- JAMES G. SEIDL, MEDFORD, WIS.

DEAR JAMES: You put your finger on the problem when you said that inattentive driving is the culprit. I have received mail from many readers complaining about having been caught in traffic with commuters who apply makeup while driving, who turn around to converse with passengers in the rear seat, or to try to control animals that are loose in the car. What many people seem to forget is that the car continues to move while the driver is distracted.

So many drivers ignore stop signs and red lights that some cities have begun installing cameras at busy intersections to record the license plates of the scofflaws. Pedestrians shouldn't have to fear stepping off the curb.

In my own defense, I wasn't entirely off the wall when I suggested there ought to be a law. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Using a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle is against the law in Connecticut, and has been since the days of the old radio-telephone. However, the law is seldom enforced.

Some drivers even keep a telephone headset draped over their rearview mirror for hands-free telephony. -- R.C. JESPERSEN, KEENE, N.H.

DEAR R.C.: Thank you for the information. Whether it's enforced to the max or not, I'm pleased to learn that law is on the books. One down, 49 to go. Other countries have such laws, and we should, too.