Can you safely talk on a cellphone — or for that matter, check your email or scroll through Google Maps — while driving? Well, of course you can. But those other folks with their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road are a public menace.
Unfortunately, that sums up the attitude of many American motorists, who widely acknowledge using their phones while behind the wheel but insist they're safe drivers. Meanwhile, the number of people worried about the other guy is soaring. When the state Office of Traffic Safety asked California drivers to name the biggest safety problem on the road, nearly 40% listed drivers who use cellphones. That's a big jump from last year, when the top worry was aggressive drivers and speeders, and only 18.3% were concerned about cellphones.
So what changed? Probably the explosion of smartphones, which aren't so much phones as portable computers — and which, like a computer, require both eyes and often both hands, meaning that, in our view, drivers should never operate them. But they do. More than 1 in 4 Americans who download applications to their smartphones admit to using those apps while driving, according to a survey by Nationwide Mutual Insurance. And the number of people with smartphones is growing fast. U.S. sales of smartphones are expected to hit 95 million in 2011, and 43% of mobile phone owners have smartphones; soon it will be a majority.