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Live traffic reports

Have you seen the insurance commercial about inattentive driving? The opening scene shows a fast-paced, multitasking, businesswoman curling her eyelashes with one of those torturous looking clamp things while she's tooling along the six-lane highway and talking on her cell phone. She then applies lipstick and fluffs her hair. At the same time, she's answering questions, jotting notes on a dashboard-mounted note pad and checking her computer. All the while, she's threading through traffic, ignoring everyone else.

At the last moment, she says to the person on the phone, “Hey, gotta go. Here's my exit.” Then she rips across the highway, cutting off traffic to make the exit. Cars honk, swerve and crash as she tootles off the screen.

While I couldn't help but laugh at the commercial, there was a bit of “Oh, my gawd,” too.

The very next day, I passed a driver with a cell phone cradled between her neck and shoulder. She held a clipboard against the steering wheel with her left hand and wrote with her right. I can only assume she steered with her knees.

Here are some facts. Sixty percent of cell phone use takes place while driving. And, 8 percent of drivers are on their cell phones. Reaction time for these talking drivers is 30 percent slower than for drivers not talking on a cell phone. A driver using a cell phone is as dangerous as a drunk driver with a 0.08 percent blood alcohol level.

And there are at least two more reasons to be concerned about cell phone usage from a car. At the recent Broadcast Engineering News Technology conference, several panelists emphasized the advantages of licensing a station's content to the new outlets. Companies like Sprint, with its MobiTV, and Verizon, with its VCAST, are eager to have access to broadcast content, and they don't care where it's watched.

If that's not enough to scare you, the term broadcast video has a whole new meaning. New technology will let cell phone users not only watch programs, but actually transmit live video back to TV stations. IceMobile claims its Videocall2TV will “enable viewers to express themselves instantly by making video calls from their 3G mobile phones to TV programs and participate in the shows with live video images.”

Two-way, interactive, live video from cell phones in cars, restaurants — even restrooms! Oh, my gawd! We're doomed! Even a seven-second delay couldn't save a station's backside with this kind of programming.

Can't you just see it? Road rage raised to a whole new level. The broadcaster runs live cell phone video showing the latest road rage or traffic congestion. There are prizes for the best (worst) coverage or event. Now drivers become competitive to see who has been in the worst traffic jam.

“Okay, I'll show you road rage,” says one driver as he rams the guy in the Beemer who just won the contest. That driver ups his anger and decides to pursue the offending driver. Car number three witnesses the events and gives chase, thereby causing another wreck. All this is being broadcast not from a helicopter, but live from inside the cars. Oh, the inhumanity of it …

If there's an upside to this, I suppose it's that these real-time video broadcast feeds will give a whole new meaning to the phrase “live traffic reports.”

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