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Commentary | Dec. 18, 2007

How important is that call?

By Abe Smith 1st Security Forces Squadron

How important is that cell phone call you're trying to make or answer while driving 35 mph?

That question could be posed to many people driving on Langley these days due to the popularity of cell phones and other hand-held electronic devices, which are so common in our lives.

Yes, these devices make our lives easier (at times) and we get more done (at times), but at what price to our safety?

Since February 2006, it's been a violation of Langley Air Force Base Instruction 31-204 to operate a cell phone or other hand-held electronic device without hands-free capability while driving.

Now that the holiday season is in full swing, people need more than ever to focus on what they're doing and limit unnecessary distractions while driving - on or off base.

Let's face it; drivers are bombarded by a myriad of daily external distractions, which are out of their control. These distractions range from the bad driver in the lane next to you, to bad roads and inclement weather.

While we have little or no control over these types of distractions, talking on a non-hands-free cell phone to the point of inattentive driving is more of a selective distraction. It's something we can all avoid by asking ourselves two questions: Just how important is that call I'm about to make or answer? Can I call the person back when I get to my destination? If the answer to both questions is yes, don't pick up; let the call to go to voicemail.

If, however, you feel the call is more important than your safety or the safety of others, please pull over and stop before making or answering a call.

In a recent study conducted by Live Science, cell phone distractions account for more than 2,600 deaths and more than 330,000 injuries each year. As a former security forces patrolman and flight chief, I've witnessed and cited countless examples of inattentive driving. From the stressed out mom with a minivan full of screaming kids, to the self-important noncommissioned officer, to the commissioned officer juggling two cell phones and a PDA, to the young airmen searching for their favorite radio station while driving with their knees. All of these distractions can and should be avoided while driving.

Your lack of focus while driving places your life, as well the lives of others, at risk anytime your attention is divided.