Wireless phones get a bad rap as a distraction to drivers. What goes under-reported is the fact that while the use of mobile phones might play a hand in some accidents, mobile phones are also frequent lifesavers, helping summon help in emergencies far quicker and with more accuracy that if the populace relied on land lines alone. The fact is that whatever you do that might distract you during driving, whether it is looking at hotties or arguing with your spouse, is a danger. So always remember that safety is your first responsibility behind the wheel. It is not recommended at all, but if you insist on using a mobile phone while driving, do it correctly.

“Road trips are a great American tradition, but drivers face many distractions in the car–from eating lunch on-the-go, to kids playing in the back seat, to changing the radio station or CD,” said Steve Largent, president and CEO of CTIA–The Wireless Association. “For years, the wireless industry has worked hard to educate drivers on the range of distractions they face, and to remind them that safety is always their first responsibility. That means using a wireless phone wisely, and recognizing when it’s not the right time to make a call.”

What are the wrong times to make a mobile call? In times when extra concentration on your driving is required–in heavy traffic, in bad weather, in unfamiliar territory, or when the conversation might be stressful or emotional. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to never talk to your in-laws while driving at all.

While some self-proclaimed safety experts have called for a complete ban on mobile phone use when driving, we have heard of no groundswell of support for a ban on talking with your passenger, Crowded highwaylistening to CDs or, heaven forefend, eating a cheeseburger while at the wheel of a vehicle. Instead, we suggest that you as a driver understand that talking on a mobile phone when driving can distract you from the important task at hand–piloting your vehicle safely [and especially keeping your “brain on the road scene”]. With that understanding, it is also worth considering the lessons of the wireless industry’s educational campaign “Safety, Your Most Important Call.”

If you insist on using a cell phone while driving:

1. Get to know your wireless phone’s features, such as speed dial and voice activation. Further, learn those features and how to use them safely and effortlessly BEFORE you try to use them behind the wheel of your car.

2. When available, use a hands-free device. While not a panacea, a hands-free device can help you maintain solid control of your vehicle by allowing you to steer with both hands. Because they are so inexpensive, it’s almost inexcusable NOT to use a hands-free device. [But remember, keeping your “brain on the road scene” may be the main factor. So hands or not, the conversation is the problem.]

3. Position your wireless phone within easy reach of your driving position before you get your vehicle underway. Reaching for a ringing phone in a briefcase located in the backseat is an invitation for disaster.

4. Let voicemail take your call if you can’t reach your phone or if you are driving in difficult conditions. Remember, just because it rings doesn’t mean you have to answer it.

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5. Let the person you are speaking with know you are driving. It is not rude, but rather, very prudent to suspend your call if necessary.

6. Dial your phone sensibly. Dialing lengthy numbers while traveling at freeway speeds can expose you and those around you to deadly dangers. Instead place calls when stopped or before pulling into traffic.

7. Do not engage in stressful or emotional conversations while driving. This holds true whether these conversations take place on the phone or with a passenger.

8. Dial 9-1-1 or other local emergency numbers to help others or yourself. The phone can be a lifesaving tool, helping you to guide help to emergency situations.

9. Do not look up phone numbers or take notes while driving.

10. Realize there are times you should not call while driving, for example, in hazardous weather conditions, in heavy traffic, or on unfamiliar roadways.

Driving Today contributor Tom Ripley is based in Villefranche, France, where he studies international automotive trends, safety advances, and the human condition. © Studio One Networks.

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