I read an interesting article online recently in Medical Daily titled Warning Signs of a Cellphone Addict. There's a psychological term now to describe people who obsessively check for e-mails and messages – it's called "nomophobia," an abbreviation of no-mobile-phone phobia, which, of course, is the fear of being without a mobile phone.
A psychotherapist quoted in the article says cellphones are as addictive as slot machines and cause people to become disengaged from having face-to-face relationships.
"The lives of cellphone addicts are so contingent on their need to feel socially connected on their phones that, without mobile technology, they begin to express a sense of vulnerability that can trigger certain moods and behaviours," wrote reporter Lizette Borreli.
I witness every day the excessive compulsion to check a mobile. I do not carry one personally, but all around me I see people who constantly take their phones from their pocket and nervously start pressing buttons. Often it's the driver in the car next to me.
Whether cellphone usage is an addiction or an obsessive compulsive disorder I can't say, but as a cause of traffic accidents and fatalities it is a major problem. The Ontario Provincial Police says distracted driving is cited as a causal factor in 30 to 50 per cent of traffic collisions in Ontario. Using a cellphone or device capable of texting is not the only cause of distraction, but using one behind the wheel can get you a fine of $155 in Ontario.
That's a good start, but a neighbouring jurisdiction is taking more serious measures. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a savvy politician if there ever was one, is on the issue. Last week, Cuomo said, "New York State is continuing to use every tool at its disposal to combat texting while driving."
He has decided to set up special texting zones on the side of state highways and the thruway to allow motorists to pull over to use their phones. There will be 91 of them, using existing rest areas and service centres as a way to encourage drivers to get off the road before using their cellphone.
It's hard to battle an addiction, but this is a sensible idea. The "texting zone" announcement is part of a big campaign by Cuomo's government to fight cellphone use by drivers. New York has more unmarked police cars hunting for offenders and Cuomo proudly announced that troopers gave out 21,580 tickets this summer – a 365-per-cent increase over last year. New York has also increased the penalty for distracted driving from three to five demerit points on a driver's licence.
It's obvious that the cellphone obsession doesn't go away when people get behind the wheel, but maybe the "texting zone" tactic will persuade a few people to pull over before using their phones.
If that's not stimulus enough, then you should probably check out filmmaker Werner Herzog's latest. It's a 35-minute online documentary titled From One Second to the Next that should frighten you into submission. It describes in horrifying detail four accidents caused by drivers texting behind the wheel. The film was commissioned by AT&T to be shown to high schools, safety groups and government agencies across the United States.
Stopping distracted driving is good politics and I wouldn't be surprised to see some of our own cellphone-addicted politicians taking notice soon.
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