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IT CAN WAIT Driving, cell phone use never a safe combination

By the El Dorado (Ark.) News Times

The Sun's editorial writer is out of the office this week. The following editorial is republished from the April 6 El Dorado (Ark.) News Times.

This is a soapbox we have stood upon before, and given the fact that April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, it's a good time, we believe, to climb atop it again.

Pause for a moment and think about how many times in the past year you have come close to being in an accident because the other driver was talking on their cell phone or perhaps you were talking on a cell phone and almost caused an accident yourself.

Wherever the fault lies, distracted driving is a serious problem in this country. In fact, the National Safety Council estimates that almost 25 percent of car crashes involve cell phone use.

Experienced drivers often forget that driving is a complex task that requires keeping one's eyes on the road, one's hands on the wheel and the brain focused on the task of driving. In fact, according to the NSC, drivers engaged in cell phone conversations are cognitively distracted and can fail to notice up to 50 percent of their driving environment.

One of the goals of the NSC during Distracted Driving Awareness Month is to debunk what they call "The Great Multitasking Lie" when it comes to cell phone use while driving. Most people realize that texting while driving is dangerous, but they fail to fully grasp the idea that having a cell phone conversation while driving is also extremely risky.

Contrary to popular belief, the NSC says, the human brain is actually incapable of fully multitasking. Driving and talking on a cell phone are two tasks that involve many areas of the brain, and instead of processing both simultaneously, the brain rapidly switches back and forth between two cognitive activities. As a result, the driver is not fully focused while behind the wheel - a dangerous state to be in while piloting a multi-thousand pound vehicle down the highway at 60 miles per hour.

And according to Janet Froetscher, NSC president and CEO, the danger doesn't diminish just because a driver happens to be using a hands-free device.

"Cell phone use while driving has become a serious public health threat," said Froetscher. "Several states and municipalities have passed legislation allowing hands-free devices while driving. These laws give the false impression that hands-free phones are a safe alternative, when the evidence is clear they are not. Understanding the distraction of the brain will help people make the right decision and put down their cell phones while driving."

In short, there is no safe means of having a cell phone conversation while driving a vehicle. Whatever it is, as the current anti-texting PSA states, "It can wait." And if it can't, pull off the road to talk. No conversation is worth risking your life or the lives of others.

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