Tips for Driving Responsibly while Using Your Cell Phone

by Jim Hanks

Safety issues regarding driving and cell phone use have received a great deal of attention lately and, as a result, numerous research studies have been performed. Some studies say that cell phones are responsible for an alarming number of accidents. Others say that talking on the phone is no less dangerous than eating while driving, which seems to provide some people with a rationale for unrestricted cell phone use—even though eating while driving is distracting, as well.

Nonetheless, all of the studies admit one thing: cell phones are a distraction. Consequently, many local governments want to implement a variety of restrictions—from requiring drivers to wear headsets to banning cell phone use on roads altogether. Because let's face it, you really shouldn't be doing anything while driving, but driving.

Whether or not legislation is enacted in your area, if you use a cell phone in the car you should behave as responsibly as possible. And by following a few simple suggestions, you can keep roads a lot safer—for pedestrians, for fellow drivers, and for yourself.

Safety tips
Buy a headset
Headsets keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. They also prevent the loss of peripheral vision caused when you hold a phone to your ear. Initially, cellular headsets were awkward and uncomfortable to wear; however, the ubiquity of mobile phones and intense competition have led to a lot of innovative headset designs. While remaining unobtrusive, they can significantly improve the sound quality of your conversation. A variety of models are available through Hello Direct: everything from wireless headsets to in-the-ear models (that don't require microphone booms).

Mount your phone
Most cellular phone companies offer car kits that can be mounted on your vehicle's dashboard. These kits usually include microphones and speakers, and a few models use your stereo's speakers, instead. When inserted into the docking station, your cell phone is immediately converted to a speakerphone while the battery is charged. If you have more than one cellular phone in your family, make sure you choose a car kit that is compatible with different models, and different manufacturers. Many kits are compatible with multiple brands and models, so you may not need to get more than one kit for the family car.

Make cellular voice mail more accessible
Since most people call their home or office voice mail more often than any other number, there are a few things you can do to significantly reduce the number of times you need to look at your phone. Almost all mobile phones allow you to program pauses (they are usually signified by a "p" or a comma). After your voice mail's phone number, program a pause and then enter your password. Then, when naming the entry, use something like Zmail, so you can access it with a minimal number of buttons. (With Nokia phones, the last entry in your address book can be accessed with 2 button presses: "scroll down" and then "scroll up.").¹   In such a scenario, you can listen to your voice mail by pressing just 3 buttons (the third being "send").

Turn up the volume
When you get in the car, turn up the volume on your cell phone so you can hear initial rings. When you miss them, you're more likely to be distracted as you rush to catch callers before they roll into voice mail. Also, when you're on a call, turn up the volume so you don't have to concentrate on hearing the caller's voice.

Avoid dialing while driving
If you're in the car with others, let someone else place (or answer) a call while you concentrate on the road. If you need to talk, let your passenger hand you the phone once the call has been dialed (or answered). Additionally, some higher-end phones with speech recognition software allow you to speak a person's name in order to dial their number.

Be aware of your surroundings
In addition to dialing, another major distraction of cell phone use is poor reception, and your response to it. When you cannot make a call or begin to lose the one you're already having, it's common to get angry and to repeatedly look at your cell phone's LCD to determine the area's coverage. On the coast of Lima, Peru, in fact, so many accidents have occurred from this specific type of distraction (caused by poor reception due to coastal cliffs) that cell phone use has been banned in many coastal areas there.

If you're approaching a low coverage area (such as a tunnel or a mountain pass) terminate the call voluntarily. Also, don't make or take calls when you're in heavy traffic, near an intersection, or exiting/entering a highway.

Take important calls only
There aren't many conversations that can't wait until you've arrived at your destination or that can't be postponed until you pull over. Tell clients you'll call back because they deserve your full attention.

Concluding remarks
In the time it takes to glance at your cell phone a lot can happen—a stoplight can turn red, someone can walk in front of your car, a dog can wander onto the road, another driver can suddenly hit the brakes—and in that split second, an accident can easily take place. So follow these very simple suggestions and keep everyone on the road a little safer.