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October 02, 2005

Travel Now... Talk Later

Oh happy day! On Saturday October 1st the new state law takes effect making it illegal to yabber on a cell phone while driving. Connecticut thus joins New York and New Jersey in leading the nation in this important safety measure.

Sure, cellphone addicts will be allowed to drive and talk if they use a “hands-free” device, but even this begs the question of where their attention should be, i.e. on the road.

I honestly wonder what soccer moms with an SUV full of kids are thinking when they drive down busy streets juggling a latte in one hand and a cellphone in the other. Don’t they love their kids?

Once, when stuck in crawling traffic on I-95, I actually saw a guy reading a book. I’ve seen other drivers shaving or putting on make-up. Give me a break!

In the words of the NPR “Car Talk” guys’ bumper sticker: “Drive Now, Talk Later”. But I’d carry that message to other travel environments as well, especially on the train.

For several years now the Commuter Council has been trying to persuade Metro-North to establish “Quiet Cars” on commuter trains… cellphone free environments where riders seeking peace don’t need to hear some self-centered hedge-fund dealer yelling at his trading desk in a voice that carries through the entire car.

Amtrak pioneered the “Quiet Car” concept to rider acclaim, but Metro-North refuses even to experiment with the idea, instead pushing its “be considerate of other riders” public service campaign, with only modest success.

If we used to have smoking and non-smoking cars, why can’t we have “Quiet Cars” as well?
What I enjoy most is watching cellphone users with the new Bluetooth wireless ear clips, chattering away to nobody in particular… “It’s me.” Who cares? “I’m on the train”. Yeah, I can tell. “Just thought I’d check in.” I wish I could check out.

But wait, fellow travelers… it gets worse. Recently the FAA was considering allowing cellphone use in-flight. Could you imagine a 6 hour trans-con, crammed into a center seat, between two people determined to talk the entire way… and who’ve brought extra back-up batteries just to be sure? Fortunately, saner minds prevailed and that idea was shot down.

OK…I’ll admit that I do use my cellphone on the train, but I always make the call short, and cup my hand around the mouthpiece. If a longer call is necessary I’ll get out of my seat and use the vestibule. And to make sure that incoming calls don’t bother anyone, I leave my phone on vibrate.

A ticket on the train buys you transportation, not the right to annoy your fellow passengers with a recitation of your woes. And when you’re driving, will you please hang up?

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JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 14 years. He is Vice Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at jim@camcomm.com or www.trainweb.org/ct

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