Article excerpt

From time to time during an accident investigation, the issue of cell phone use arises. Because the cell phone is commonplace in vehicles, it has become the topic of accident reconstruction training, legislation in many states and municipalities, and the conversation of many frustrated drivers who get slighted by the unconscious acts of some "cell phone-using drivers," as opposed to "drivers using cell phones."

A great deal of those who violate basic rules of the road subconsciously are not primarily driving and using a cell phone. You guessed it: they are primarily using a cell phone, and secondarily driving a 4,000-pound piece of metal that has the potential to kill at virtually any speed given the right set of conditions.

I am an emergency vehicle operation driving instructor with my police department. I began making some observations in March 2003 during a month of high-speed, stress-induced and pursuit-type driving.

We train our officers to transmit only while driving in a straight line. Always keep your eyes moving/scanning your surroundings to overcome the potential of tunnel vision from setting in. Tunnel vision doesn't just mean that you begin losing peripheral vision, but it also includes the fixation on an object directly in front of you. This could be as simple as the roadway most directly in front of your vehicle. Could that tunnel distance be as close as 50 feet or less in front of your vehicle?

It would appear that accident results show it could be. Using a phone can create its own version of tunnel vision- a "mental tunnel vision" if you will-that can overtake your primary function of driving a vehicle. Think of it: drivers are striking barriers directly in front of them.

I can't tell you how many times during our pursuit driving that the officers overshot rums or went off road because they were baited into communicating at inopportune times during strenuous driving conditions. The communication function overrode the driving function.

I was able to correct these mistakes by reminding the drivers to look through the curve, scan well ahead of the vehicle, and keep their eyes moving. Of course, in pursuit driving, we talk about combat breathing and wiggling your toes among other things to keep the stress down. There's no need for that extreme in simple cell phone use, but as you will see, some of these principles do apply.

Answer the question of why a driver can carry on a conversation with a passenger in his own vehicle and consciously make appropriate good decisions during his trip. I began watching people talking to each other in any and all settings, including inside a vehicle driving.

Watch them for yourself, and notice how they look around, look over at the person with whom they are talking, look away, look in their mirror, look back at the person, and so on. The driver's head and eyes move constantly. Outside of a car, it is rare for two people to start talking to each other while staring into each others' eyes, never looking away, or not being distracted by any external stimuli until their conversation is over.

Let's get back to the big question of how the "cell phone spell" seems to come over some drivers and cause them to drive subconsciously. In fact, cell phones are not the real problem. The real underlying problem has to do with phones period and how we are conditioned to use them. Again, 1 began watching people. …