Sunday, December 14, 2008

Calling in the car increases risk of cancer / Sending a deadly message / Crack down on 'cell-driving'

Calling in the car increases risk of cancer

The Belgian Cancer Foundation echoes the warnings emanating from the World Health Organisation.

18 November 2008

The Belgian Foundation Against Cancer warns that intensive use of a mobile phone can increase the risk of contracting cancer in certain situations.

The Belgian Cancer Foundation has picked up on the concerns of the World Health Organisation regarding mobile phones. "The first results of an international interphone study are quite alarming," writes the Foundation on its website. Although the results of the study are not yet definitive the Foundation says there is definitely reason for concern.

To limit the risk of exposing yourself to an increased chance of contracting cancer the Belgian Cancer Foundation gives a number of tips including: children younger than 12 should not use a mobile phone; using a mobile phone as an alarm clock is not desirable because the phone is in close proximity to the head the entire night.

The Cancer Foundation also strongly advises people not to use a mobile phone in the car or train because the intensity of the signal from the antenna masts is stronger.

This is the first time the Belgian Foundation Against Cancer has openly advising people of the danger of using mobile telephones.


Last updated: December 14, 2008 9:16 a.m.

Sending a deadly message

Bill drafted to ban texting while driving

Jeff Wiehe
The Journal Gazette
The Allen County Drive Alive campaign looks to reduce the number of fatal car accidents involving teen drivers. The campaign suggests that parents always talk to their children about the dangers of the road. Information is available online at

He took a bend on Dicke Road in his Mercury Sable with a world of opportunities before him.

It had been, by all accounts, a good October day for Rodney O. Thompson II. He and a friend at Homestead High School talked about opening a law firm after college.

He talked basketball, like he always did, with other friends that day. The 18-year-old even danced in the hallways, cracking up his classmates, the way he always did.

But later in the evening, Thompson was driving too fast on Dicke Road, and texting on his cell phone, when he lost control of his car and wrapped it around a utility pole near the entrance of Southwinds Church of Christ. Winding skid marks crossed both lanes.

He was killed instantly. A passenger in the car, a 15-year-old girl, escaped with minor injuries.

Thompson died doing something half of 18- to 24-year-olds surveyed by the American Automobile Association admit to doing at least occasionally. The same study, released this year, found 14 percent of all Americans text and drive at times.

The practice is banned in several states and municipalities, and Indiana lawmakers are trying to outlaw it for teens younger than 18 and those who drive public-transportation vehicles.

"Nobody should be texting, nobody should be talking on the phone while driving," said Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, who is working on two bills that would address the use of cell phones while driving.

Anecdotal evidence

One day while he was driving her car, Diveeta Thompson said she warned her son of the dangers of texting and driving after he reached for his phone to read a new message.

"It hurts," she said. "There are chances you shouldn't take. It takes that split second to have a life-altering decision."

A driver is distracted within three seconds of a crash in 80 percent of car accidents, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

Texting - the common term for sending and receiving short text messages by cell phones - is an easy distraction behind the wheel.

"When you're texting, you're using your brain to think, and you remove your eyes from the road for a period of time. It requires some manual dexterity," said Allen County Coroner Dr. E. Jon Brandenberger, who investigated Thompson's crash. "When we learn to drive, we need to use our eyes and ears, our coordination, our motor capabilities and our other senses."

There are no data that show how many vehicular crashes are related to receiving or sending texts, but anecdotal evidence is piling up.

Last year in New York, five teens were killed when their 17-year-old driver, carrying on a text conversation, collided with a tractor-trailer rig. A Los Angeles teen found to be texting and driving was killed in September.

A 32-year-old man in Massachusetts was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison last month in connection with a car crash that killed a 13-year-old pedestrian. He admitted to text-messaging at the time of the wreck.

"I guess kids just get so easily distracted," said Diveeta Thompson, who has a thick notebook of cards and letters from her son's classmates who were touched by him in some way. "It happened so quick for Rodney."

Studies are beginning to suggest the danger. One done by Clemson University last year showed drivers trying to text or use iPods left their lanes 10 percent more often on a curvy road than drivers talking on cell phones.

Data about actual crashes, however, are unavailable, because determining whether a cell phone came into play is hard to prove.

The Fort Wayne-Allen County Fatal Accident Crash Team - comprising officers from the sheriff's department, the city police department, New Haven Police Department and a deputy from the coroner's office - is called to every critical injury and fatal crash scene to reconstruct what happened.

Cell phones are so common that just because the team finds one near a dead driver who might have caused an accident doesn't mean the phone was a factor. And investigators can't look at the record of recent activity on the phone without first obtaining a search warrant.

"They may need probable cause, like a witness, in order to actually look at the cell phone," said Sgt. Steve Stone, spokesman for the Allen County Sheriff's Department.

At least one fatal car accident a year in Allen County, however, can be linked to cell phone use, according to Brandenberger.

Not just teens

At least five states plus the District of Columbia have passed legislation forbidding the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, and seven states have passed laws against receiving or sending texts while driving.

There are no restrictions regarding cell phones and driving in Indiana, but a new bill co-written by Wyss and spearheaded by Travis Holdman, R-Markle, would outlaw the practice for drivers younger than 18 if it's passed in 2009.

"I would not doubt that someone would introduce a bill that will ban it for everybody," Wyss said.

Before proposing the bill, Holdman heard testimony during a summer study committee in support of the teen ban on cell phone use. One of those who testified was a college graduate who, while in high school, ran her car off the road while dialing her cell phone, Holdman said.

She hit a tree and is now a paraplegic.

"She said, 'Please stop us from doing this. It's killing young folks on the highway,' " Holdman said. "It really opened my eyes to teen driving, texting and cell phone use."

Wyss also plans to introduce a bill banning the use of cell phones for public- transportation employees, a result of the Metrolink commuter train crash that killed 25 people near Los Angeles in September.

The engineer was sending and receiving text messages seconds before the crash, authorities discovered.

"Dealing with public transportation, there you got something that's pretty obvious," Wyss said. "Bus drivers, train drivers should not be doing anything that distracts them while driving."

As for a bill banning texting for all drivers, Wyss said he won't be the one to introduce that. He's focused on passing the bill for teens that also requires them to wait longer and have more practice time before getting a license. He's tried unsuccessfully to get a similar bill passed for two years.

Still, Brandenberger issues a caution.

"It's a problem not just with teenagers and new drivers, but it's increasingly become a problem with older people learning new technology," Brandenberger said. "I think it's more of a widespread problem for adults than they're willing to admit."

Lasting effect

One letter came from a 10th-grader whose nerves in a new class were put at ease when Rodney Thompson took an interest in him, showed him around and even invited him to hang out after school, though the two had just met. Another came from someone in his fourth-hour class, who felt compelled to write about him to his mother.

The letters from Homestead students poured in, all with a Rodney story they wanted to share.

"One parent came to me and said her daughter was suicidal but wouldn't go into counseling," Diveeta Thompson said. "She was at a party, her friends dissed her, but Rodney took her home. He told her not to listen to those girls, that she was a beautiful person.

"(That mother) told me, 'I want you to know your son impacted my child's life.' "

Her son was such an excellent driver, Diveeta Thompson said, sometimes even a slow driver, and had never put a scratch or nick on either his car or hers.

"I hadn't talked to him that day about it, because of his driving record," she said.

"I would just stress, emphasize to (parents), before your kid leaves home, reiterate the importance. It takes only a mere second. Yet the excruciating pain, the extreme loss - words just cannot explain it."


Web-posted Sunday, December 14, 2008

Editorial: Crack down on 'cell-driving'

The deaths of a young mother and her infant daughter ought to send a major wakeup call to state and local governing authorities.

Eyewitness reports of an accident this past month at Washington Street and the Claude Highway south of Amarillo involved a cellular telephone. The young mother, Stephanie Renee Phelps, a 16-year-old Randall High School student, was seen talking on a cell phone an instant before colliding with a water-delivery truck at the intersection.

The young woman and her 4-month-old daughter died as a result of their injuries.

The tragic loss of life brought unimaginable grief to their loved ones.

But therein could lie motivation to help prevent future tragedies involving other Panhandle or Texas families.

Cities have the power to enact ordinances banning the use of cell phones while driving. Amarillo doesn't have such an ordinance on the books.

States have similar authority. Texas has no law governing the use of cell phones by motorists, but it does have a law that prevents bus drivers carrying passengers younger than 17 from using them while operating their vehicles.

The state needs to start taking a serious look at this issue and the growing plague of drivers who are operating these devices while at the same time operating a potentially dangerous motor vehicle.

But cities, such as Amarillo, need not wait on the state. Home-rule charters empower cities to act on their own. Amarillo City Hall, which long has trumpeted its hands-off approach to regulation, perhaps needs to rethink its resistance to taking specific action on the use of cell phones while driving.

The police department has rules against driving recklessly, or failing to maintain proper control of a motor vehicle. Too often, the use of cell phones while driving more than meets the standard of failing to maintain proper control.

Municipal bans on cell phone use while driving are not new. Many cities already have enacted such laws. So, it's not as if Amarillo would be blazing a new trail into the unknown.

Cities and states have plenty of data to support tougher laws on cell phone use while driving. They are contained in countless traffic-safety studies that say essentially the same thing: Operating a cell phone while driving increases the chances of traffic accidents.

And have you ever noticed how much concentration it takes for a beginning driver to learn how to operate a motor vehicle?

And yet ... one can witness each day newly minted drivers - teenagers, to be specific - who think nothing of talking on cell phones while driving in heavy traffic.

Talking on cell phones isn't the only transgression. Too many drivers are texting, playing games and using the myriad other functions available on these 21st-century technological marvels.

Just how many more tragedies need to occur before government ratchets up its enforcement?

It is clear - just stand for a few minutes at any busy intersection and watch the numbers of drivers operating their cars while gabbing on a cell phone - that existing laws aren't preventing this type of behavior on our streets and roads.