An electrical contractor can be a mobile army of thousands of vehicles, and a threat to the safety of workers is growing. In an age defined by the convenience of cell phones and other technology, we’re beginning to see some communications and driving do not mix.

You've seen those drivers on the road, phone to the ear and driving brain almost in neutral. You've done it yourself, fumbling with phone dialing, reading or sending a text message. Then there is checking e-mail.

Operating cell phones or the growing realm of electronic devices makes the road riskier for everybody. Many advocates for improved road safety are screaming. Some states, and even Washington D.C., have even started to ban cell phone use while driving.

One of my friends in Washington D.C. suggested that identifiable photos of the vehicle, driver (on the phone) and location could be sent in for a $10 bounty. The offender would receive a citation for $75 and points on their license. That might make the enforcement effective.

"You are just an accident waiting for a place to happen when you text message and drive," said Michelle Shannahan, vice president of operations at Communication Planning Corp., Jacksonville, Fla. “Any competent driving instructor will tell you the same thing. Unfortunately, the highway casualty count continues to rise, while we fail to ban texting while driving. Just watching other drivers talking on their cell phones and not paying attention to the traffic makes me angry."

A Zigby Interactive poll this summer found 83 percent thought texting while driving should be illegal. But among respondents 18 to 24, the support for a ban dropped to 48 percent. That age group also was most likely to text while driving. Sixty-six percent of them had done so, compared to 16 percent of cell phone owners overall. The nationwide poll of 2,246 adults had a margin of error of 2.1 percent.

To many in Generation Y—currently aged 18 to 24—doing those things while driving is a way of life. These drivers routinely say they welcome technological advances such as voice-activated devices but not more government regulation.

Some typical reactions to laws and enforcement to improve safety on the highway are uninformed. For example: A ban on texting while driving is a "horrible idea." it takes only a few seconds to read a text message and then shoot back a five-word response. If you don’t text in heavy traffic or bad weather you will be okay. In contrast, cell phone calls can go on for several minutes, and people also spend more time eating in cars than it takes for a text message.

The potential crackdown also has stimulated research aimed at making technology more driver-friendly. In the car of the future, a driver could keep both hands on the wheel while giving verbal commands to operate communications devices, even dictating e-mails and text messages.

"Within the next decade, your vehicle is going to be as connected to such electronic services as your home or office." said James Carlini, a well known communications consultant and technology visionary “The big question is when will the technology-makers make it safe for the road."

Automakers also are rolling out voice-recognition devices and not just for hands-free phone calls. Mercedes-Benz offers voice-activated features in its C-Class cars to select a radio station or CD track. The system also "reads out loud" text messages and translates common text-message expressions, like "LOL," which translates to laughing out loud. Ford and Lincoln Mercury will sell a similar system on select 2008 models, including the ability to pick songs from iPod or MP3 players by speaking the choice. Those features appeal to car buyers who shop for the latest in technology.

All that technology tends to give drivers a false sense of security, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Dialing a cell phone is more dangerous than talking on one, but because people spend more time talking than dialing, those conversations cause just as many crashes, the administration found in a 2006 study.

No states have banned cell phone use by all drivers, but a handful have enacted laws that state drivers can use only hands-free cell phones, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Sixteen states have laws restricting cell phones for teenage drivers. Florida has no regulations on cell phones. Georgia bans their use by school bus drivers.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the following are some common activities of drivers and how much they increase the risk of a crash or near-crash:

• Reaching for a moving object—9 times greater

• Looking for an object—3.7 times greater

• Reading—3 times greater

• Dialing a cell phone—almost 3 times greater

• Applying makeup—3 times greater

• Talking on a phone—1.3 times greater

• Driving while drowsy—4 times greater


The AAA recommends the following tips for using your cell phone in your car or truck:

• AAA's first tip: Don't use a cellular phone while driving. But if you must, continue with this list.

• Familiarize yourself with the features of your cell phone before you get behind the wheel.

• Use the cell phone only when absolutely necessary. Limit casual conversations to times when you're not trying to safely operate a motor vehicle.

• Plan your conversation in advance, and keep it short - especially in hazardous conditions such as bad weather or heavy traffic.

• Let the person you're speaking with know you are in a vehicle.

• Do not engage in emotional conversations while trying to drive. Pull off the road to a safe spot before continuing this type of conversation.

• Do not combine distracting activities such as talking on your cell phone while driving, eating and tending to a child.

• Use message-taking functions and return calls when you are stopped at a safe location.

• Ask a passenger in the car to place the call for you and, if possible, speak in your place.

• Secure your phone in the car so that it doesn't become a projectile in a crash.

BISBEE is with Communication Planning Corp., a telecomm and datacomm design-build firm. He provides a free monthly summary of industry news on www.wireville.com.