Mixed messages on dialing and driving?

May 1, 2010 6:48:29 AM PDT
Friday was the first national "No Phone Zone Day." If you caught Oprah, her entire show was dedicated to getting people to put down their cell phones while driving.

"If we stop it, we will save people from being killed," said Oprah guest U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "When you get in your car, put the cell phone in the glove compartment. The call will be there when you get to your destination. That is the safest thing to do."

But as LaHood was making that very appeal, out on the Durham Freeway a flashing DOT sign was exhorting motorists to dial 511 for more information about a Silver Alert.

So is the state urging people to pick up the phone when they're behind the wheel? State traffic engineer Kevin Lacy says no.

"When you're stopped at your destination you can make that call as well," he explained.

Lacy says the signs aren't intended to get people dialing right away - exactly the opposite.

"The message is simple, quick, easy, so you do not have to take any additional risk in picking up and calling immediately," he said.

So why not skip the phone number all together and just put basic information on the sign? Lacy says they often do that for weather emergencies or detours. But, he says in some cases, it's not practical.

"What we do not want to do is have a message so complex that people don't remember," he said.

A spokesperson for Secretary LaHood says there are no national standards for what goes on road signs. The standard they're focusing on is making your car a no phone zone. The message? If you do have to make a call, pull over. Beyond that, just use common sense.

And here are few sobering reminders of why all this matters. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2008, nearly 6,000 people died in crashes involving distracted drivers. More than half a million were injured.

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