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Button Pusher

Drivers on Phones Dial Up Danger

April 27, 1999|MARTIN MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A weekly column about humans as they interact with things that beep, buzz, ring and download.

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Dear Button Pusher: I was driving home on a Saturday evening and noticed a car weaving in and out of his lane in front of me.

When I finally passed him, I saw that he was chattering away on his cellular phone. Wasn't there a study about how dangerous this is? And are there any laws against driving while talking on your cell phone?

--CONCERNED DRIVER

Dear Concerned: Be concerned, very concerned.

According to a 1997 Canadian study, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, you are four times more likely than the average driver to get into an accident if you drive while talking on a cellular phone or drive while legally drunk. (The good news is if you are in an accident, it's easier to summon help.)

Although there are many rumblings about new laws to combat the problem, the U.S. is still remarkably free of legal restrictions on such matters. Countries such as Brazil, Israel and Switzerland, however, have banned the use of hand-held car phones while driving.

But things may be changing in America. Brooklyn, not the big one, but the small town outside of Cleveland, recently made it a misdemeanor to talk on a cellular phone while driving. Brooklyn claims to have blazed the trail for mandatory seat-belt laws, so watch out America.

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Dear Button Pusher: I'm not sure, but I think I accidentally sent my boss a terrible message about her over our interoffice electronic mailing system. Without repeating the insult, let's just say I questioned her intelligence. I'm apprehensive about asking our computer staff to check the electronic log and confirm if I sent the message or not. I've been thinking of just apologizing to my boss and hoping for the best. What should I do?

--A SORRY WORKER

Dear Sorry, Sorry, Sorry Worker: What are you some kind of idiot? Me too.

I've done it. Everyone I know has done it. Mistakenly firing off that nasty, gossipy electronic message to your boss or to a dreaded co-worker is a rite of passage in the modern office place.

After your finger hits the send key, you sit there and panic. You start pining for the days of snail mail, when you could persuade your friendly neighborhood postal worker to return the ill-advised communique. As you now know, once you send it out into office cyberspace, it's gone, baby.

As for apologizing, I'd vote no on that score. If you really did send it, it's unlikely launching a preemptive apology will do much good. But if she ever brings it up, keep apologizing until she's so sick of hearing it that she has to take a sick day.

Also, don't forget to look on the bright side. It's perfectly possible that your office mate simply overlooked your message.

In the meantime, Beaver, I'd say you learned an important lesson. Check and double-check those electronic messages if they are in questionable taste. Otherwise you might find yourself out of a job.

Fact of the week: By 2002, the number of American households using the Internet will outnumber those taking a newspaper, analysts predict.

For comments and questions on the human-machine relationship, please e-mail martin.miller@latimes.com; write to Interface, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053; or fax (213) 237-4888.

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