Hang Up And Drive

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These days, cell phones do just about everything.

Though they record videos, take pictures and play music, the one thing they don't do is keep drivers safe.

"We are seeing more inattention when people are driving, specifically when (they) use cell phones," said Payson Police Commander Don Engler.

Recent research serves as confirmation: chatting and driving don't mix.

Nearly 1 million vehicles on the road at any given daylight moment are driven by someone talking on a hand-held phone, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report released in December 2005.

But don't think you're safe just because you have a hands-free cell phone.

A separate NHTSA study found these contraptions equally distracting.

Just ask Payson resident Denise Arellano.

A woman driving a large truck was talking on a hands-free cell phone when she swerved into Arellano's lane as she headed to work last week.

"She had a headset on and her mind was totally on her conversation," Arellano said. "She almost ran me and my son off the road. She didn't even notice.

"It didn't faze her. So I pulled up and I motioned to her like, ‘Hello what are you doing?' She just looked at me and she was still on her cell phone."

The Harvard University Center for Risk Analysis accounted the dangers of driving and talking on a cell phone: 2,600 deaths, 330,000 injuries, and 1.5 million instances of property damage in America per year.

Sixty-five percent of cell phone-talking drivers ferry passengers 8 years old and up, while 33 percent have passengers younger than 8.

"If drivers are committing traffic violations, we can stop them," Engler said. "The accidents vary -- rear ending another vehicle, pulling out in front of another vehicle. We've even had them miss traffic lights."

Cell phone accidents occur from driver distraction, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

These motorists fail to pay attention to their surroundings, pedestrians and other cars. They tailgate more often and brake 18 percent slower than attentive drivers. Phones divert drivers' eyes from the road and their mind from the task at hand.

Arellano said she faulted the driver's oblivion in her near miss last week.

"She veered into my lane again," said Arellano. "She looked at me and laughed. At that point I was mad. I put my hands up like, ‘hello.' She probably thought I was a lunatic."

Many states and countries around the world are taking action.

Colorado, Delaware, Maryland and Tennessee ban young drivers from talking on cell phones.

Laws in New York and New Jersey prohibit drivers from using cell phones in a moving vehicle unless the devices can be operated hands-free.

Arizona outlawed bus drivers from talking on cell phones except in an emergency.

Two house bills introduced in 2006 could stymie in-car conversations: one stops the use of hand-held phones while driving and the other prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using a cell phone at the wheel.

To report inattentive drivers, contact the Payson Police Department at (928) 474-5177.

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