Seriously: Put Down the Damned Phone When You're Driving

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I have hesitated before saying anything about this episode, because -- even now! even online! -- there is such a thing as too much personal info. But because it bears on a larger issue I decided to push the "publish" button.

In many decades with a driver's license, I've been a passenger in three collisions, but never in one while behind the wheel.

I came close yesterday. In the afternoon I was driving back from getting a haircut and was a mile away from my house, rolling toward a four-way-stop intersection I've passed through a thousand times over the years.

I came to a stop, and began going ahead. The car approaching the intersection from my left, a big SUV, came up to its stop sign at moderate speed -- and kept going. It steamed straight into the intersection, toward me on the driver's side of my (low and little) car. I'd barely started moving and so by swerving as hard as I could to the right, and braking, I just avoided the SUV's path. Then I stood on the horn.

When she heard the blare of my horn, the college-age young woman at the SUV's wheel looked up from the text message that had held her attention on the phone in her right hand. I stared at her hard. It wasn't worth even giving her the finger.

Grrrrr. I don't intend to say more about this and won't make it a campaign. But, really, this has to change. I'm used to the phenomenon of "text delay" at a red light: everyone is stopped, then the light turns green, and cars take a while to respond because their drivers haven't looked up from their screens. Often I "help" them along by flashing my lights or hitting the horn. But I'm not willing to let texting-while-driving people kill me. I don't know how this is going to be enforced or policed, but something has to give.

The night before I'd noticed this ad during the Olympics.


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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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