t's enough to make you want to scream. You're driving, or walking, minding your own business and just trying to get to where you're going. When all of a sudden, someone yakking on a cell phone nearly mows you down with his/her car.
It's what Menlo Park police Officer Glenn Raggio calls "dialing while driving," and if he had his way, it would be illegal.
He should know. Officer Raggio, who writes a column for the Almanac, said he was nearly struck recently by an apparently oblivious driver on a cell phone.
"With one hand on the wheel and the other on the phone, concentration can be reduced to that of a moth," he said.
It's gotten so bad, Officer Raggio has become an advocate for people to take a "multi-tasking test" before being issued a driver's license.
"You would have to juggle one of your children, a pet of your choice and parallel park at the same time," he said. "If you pass, you get a bumper sticker, a tattoo for your forehead and a special cell phone/driver's license."
But all joking aside, the number of people who use their cell phones while trying to navigate through traffic has increased in the past few years, according to a study published by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The 1998 study, titled "An Investigation of the Safety Implications of Wireless Communications in Vehicles," stated there were 50 million cell phones in use in 1998, and that number was expected to double by this year.
Concern over driver distraction due to the use of cell phones prompted the same federal agency in 1994 to start collecting data on "pre-crash factors," including cell phone use.
"People have told me they pick up the phone when they drive because it distracts them from traffic and tension and I can identify with that," said Officer Raggio. "The unfortunate thing is, driving has become much more critical because there are more cars, more traffic and less roads."
But despite anecdotal evidence from local officers who say distracted drivers on cell phones were involved in accidents, Officer Raggio said there isn't much that can be done in Menlo Park.
"We don't really know how to approach it other than warnings and urging people to use common sense," he said.
Speaking from her cell phone, but using the "hands-free" option she quickly pointed out, City Manager Jan Dolan said there are benefits to using the cell phone while driving. At the same time, however, she said people should pull over before dialing or use the hands-free option.
But if it's not an issue in Menlo Park yet, Ms. Dolan said she isn't ruling out the topic in the near future.
"I suspect that the issue will grow in cities and it will be something we will look at," she said.