The Cell Phone Hand Grenade by Prof. Gerald August

Nov 30th, 2010 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Reflections & Observations
A couple of years ago I was at home and got a call from a friend. She was on her cell phone while driving. We were talking and at one point I heard her say “ooo,” and her phone went dead. Visions of an accident flashed through my head. I did not know if I should call because she might be in the process of avoiding an accident. The next 20 seconds were tense ones. Then the phone rang, and she told me a box had fallen off a truck in front of her and she had to drop her phone and put both hands on the wheel to swerve to miss the box. I told her to hang up because she did not have hands-free and to call me when she was not in the car.

Because of this incident, I realized that I should not talk to friends who are driving holding a cell phone. So when a friend calls me and I know they are in the car I ask if they are hands-free. If they tell me they are not, I tell them I am hanging up because they are putting themselves at risk. And I hang up.

What I am doing is a biblical commandment. We are taught to build a fence on a roof to make sure no one is injured by falling off the roof. It is our job to prevent accidents. And protecting people from themselves is also part of this commandment.

Holding a cell phone in your hand while driving is like holding a live grenade. Both have the potential to kill you. Your hands should be on the wheel, not holding a cell phone or a grenade.

The National Transportation Safety Board estimates there are one million six hundred thousand accidents a year cased by people who use cell phones to talk or text while driving. It impairs your ability to safely navigate the car by shifting your attention from the road. And a good friend will take the phone out of your hand.

This lesson was reinforced a year ago when I was crossing a street in Manhattan with a friend. We were one third of the way across and a car ran the red light and was coming toward my friend. Her instinct was to turn back to the near curb, but that would have put her in the path of the car. I grabbed her and pulled her in the other direction. She told me the driver was holding a cell phone and was oblivious to the presence of lights or people.

Texting or talking on a cell phone puts you and others at risk.

So how do you control the car cell phone habit? One idea is to consider your car a slice of Shabbat during the week. On Shabbat, you don’t talk on the phone. In your car, don’t talk on the phone. Give yourself some personal space during the week. Sort of a pause that refreshes… a pause that keeps you safe.