Don't Rush to Restrict the Use of Car Phones

"Critics Question Safety of Cellular Phone Use" read the headline on S. J. Diamond's column (For What It's Worth, Aug. 12). I am a car phone user who is concerned about the safety of everyone on our roads. Although car phones continue to proliferate on our roadways, it is yet far too early for any of our societal "know-it-alls" to make the vehicular danger claims they seem to be making.

The major argument seems to center around dialing. At this point, it should be noted that most of the equipment in use today provides for off-hook dialing; that is, numbers can be dialed while holding the receiver at eye-level in front of the operator, thereby keeping the operator's eyes on a field of vision with the roadway. Secondly, most of the equipment in use today has a "speed-dialing" capability by which any number can be dialed by pressing only three buttons. I suspect, albeit I certainly have no quantifiable evidence of this, that most heavy phone users make heavy use of speed dialing, thus minimizing the supposed distraction time of dialing.

As to carrying on a conversation, that activity is no more or less distracting than speaking to another party sitting within the vehicle, regardless of whether a speaker phone or a hand-held unit is being used. I find the comment by Paul Fadelli, aide to State Sen. Herschel Rosenthal, to be ludicrous in that it implies that a phone conversation, more than any other conversation in a car and even more than lighting cigarettes and tuning the car radio, can affect a driver's train of thought. Since the inception of cellular service in Los Angeles, I have been able to report, on at least 10 occasions, fires, major and minor traffic accidents, some involving injuries to fellow motorists, and to alert the highway patrol to truckers driving dangerously and to apparent drunk drivers. I know I'm only one of many cellular users who put their car phones to such use.

The bottom line is that the car phone is simply another piece of equipment that must be used carefully. just as tuning the radio, lighting a cigarette, or operating anything else within the vehicle. It is a product that has significant and proven utility to those of us who spend a great deal of time on the roadways and to those who are indirectly aided by its use through reporting of breakdowns and accidents.

Let's not be too quick to judge and to legislate against something just because of its newness or simply because some risks might exist. Instead, let's step back and weigh the overall utility and benefit of this now 1-year-old capability in our city and see what enhancements, both safety-related and otherwise, might be necessary after a reasonable period of review and observation. Let's not let the critics create hysteria this early in the game.



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