BOSTON, MA - November 9, 1999. Bill Clinton declared war on poverty. Janet Reno declared war on Microsoft. George Bush declared war on broccoli. Now Click and Clack, the popular hosts of NPR's "Car Talk," have declared war on cell phones-- specifically, driving while talking.
"It was bad enough when people were shaving and putting on lipstick while driving," said co-host Tom Magliozzi. "But now they're trying to dial the psychic hotline while changing lanes at 65 mph!"
"And La Toya Jackson should be telling them, 'I see an airbag deployment in your future,'" adds Ray Magliozzi, Tom's brother and co-host.
Tom and Ray Magliozzi also write a nationally syndicated twice-weekly column "Click and Clack Talk Cars," which runs in 300 newspapers. It was a column they wrote in mid-September on cell phones that helped form the battlelines, resulting in a barrage of e-mails and many thousands of letters.
"We received a question from a guy who wanted help in finding a cellular phone to use in his 1995 Lexus LS400," said Ray. "We told him we could help, but wouldn't because we're opposed to the use of cell phones in cars for anything other than emergencies. We said it's immoral, unethical, inconsiderate and downright stupid."
Unlike their usual advice-- which they say is, "unencumbered by the thought process," the brothers have plenty of facts to back up their position this time, including a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It showed people talking on cell phones while driving were four times more likely to be in a crash than the average driver, about the same risk as driving drunk.
"When you're trying to merge onto the highway between a moving tractor trailer and a Fed Ex truck, your brain is performing a complex mathematical calculation. I think most people know that they can't do that and have an intelligent conversation at the same time," says Tom. "And we have proof of this, because every one of us has had a near miss with a jerk holding a cell phone up to his ear."
The positive response to the anti-cell phone newspaper column was so overwhelming that the brothers followed up by offering a free "Drive Now, Talk Later" bumper sticker to anyone who wanted one.
We're still getting thousands of requests a week," said Doug Berman, the show's producer. "We ordered 30,000 of them to start. We thought that would last a year, but they were gone in two weeks. It's clear that people are getting tired of getting cut off by some guy talking to his broker!"
The brothers' Internet site (www.cartalk.com) is filled with studies and stories showing the dangers of talking on a cell phone while driving, and information on how readers can contact their local legislators encouraging them to pass laws against the practice.
Tom and Ray hope that a bill currently working its way through the Massachusetts Legislature will provide an example of tough new legislation. The proposed bill would make it illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving.
"For the moment, it's being stalled --- pardon the pun--in the House Rules Committee by some guy named Angelo," Says Tom.
"Nobody wants to take on this issue," says Ray. "The politicians all drive around and talk on cell phones, so they don't want to be inconvenienced. If we have to go it alone, so be it. We have truth, justice and the American way on our side."
Adds Tom: "I know it's inconvenient to pull over to make a call. But it's inconvenient to be operating your motorized wheelchair with your tongue, too. Think about that the next time you start fumbling for your keypad."
Car Talk, a Peabody Award winner, is a one-hour weekly radio program heard by more than 2.9 million listeners. Ostensibly about cars, the show actually a mix of automotive advice, philosophy-- and wisecracks.
Cell Phone Facts
A 1997 New England Journal of Medicine article concluded the risk of a collision was four-times greater if the driver of the vehicle was using a cell phone.
The risk of collision increases 34 percent among drivers with mobile phones in their vehicles, according to a 1996 study in the Accident Analysis and Prevention Journal. It also concluded that drivers using cell phones for more than 50 minutes a month increased their risk of collision fivefold.
Cellular phone use is growing by 40 percent annually. It is estimated there will be 80 million cell phones in use by next year. Currently about 9 percent of cellular phones in use in the U.S. are owned by people less than 24-years-old.
More than 85 percent of cell phone owners use them occasionally while driving a vehicle. More than 27 percent use them on at least 50 percent of their trips.
A 1996 study by the Japanese National Police Agency indicated many cell-phone-related crashes occur when drivers are responding to a call.
Legislation has been proposed in at least 22 states since 1995 to regulate or ban the use of cell phones while driving. None has passed.
Brooklyn, Ohio, is the first U.S. city to have an ordinance against talking and driving. Cambridge, Mass., is now considering a ban, as are other municipalities.
On Nov. 1, Japan became the ninth country to ban or limit talking on a cell phone and driving. The fine is $90 and drivers can be held criminally responsible if they cause an accident. The other eight countries are England, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Australia, Israel, Italy and Singapore.
A survey by Prevention Magazine indicated 18 percent of respondents thought use of their cell phones was distracting while they were driving. About 70 percent found cell phone use to be the same or more distracting than tuning a car radio.
- Police in only two states - Oklahoma and Minnesota - are required to report whether cell phones may have been the cause of a crash.