Stop farding

I was cruising along to work one morning when a small VW Bug whipped up beside me on the right. Looking over, I noticed it was being driven by a young female, perhaps 20-something years old. But that's not what caught my eye. It was that she was farding at 65mph! I couldn't believe it. Here we are, blasting along at highway speeds, and this woman is farding!

Her driver's side mirror was pulled down, and her left hand was holding her eye open while she applied eye shadow or liner to it with her right hand. I can only assume she was driving with her legs! I asked some women in my office if they fard (that is, apply makeup) while driving. “Of course,” was the most common answer.

Men don't fard, but they can be just as distracted with other things. They talk on the phone, text, eat, drink or twiddle with the radio — sometimes all at once. Those tasks aren't illegal everywhere, yet, but farding while driving can get you a ticket in Washington, D.C.

Cut the distraction

A meeting took place last month between Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in which they announced a campaign to evaluate technologies to help curb distracted driving. The DOT-FCC partnership will include public education on the dangers of distracted driving, which includes texting and talking on cell phones — and farding.

A study by AAA showed that the risk of a car accident increases by 50 percent for people who text while driving. A study conducted by Nationwide Mutual Insurance found that 19 percent of all drivers — and 37 percent of drivers between the ages of 18 and 27 — text while driving. Texting while driving at 55mph equates to driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.

A study by professors Redelmeier and Tibshirani, “Association between Cellular-Telephone Calls and Motor Vehicle Collisions,” showed that motorists are four times more likely to cause accidents when engaged in cell phone conversation than when not talking on a cell phone.

Another study showed that “the relative risk of being in a traffic accident while using a cell phone is similar to the hazard associated with driving with a blood alcohol level at the legal limit.”

The key is that cell phone-using drivers actually extract less than 50 percent of the visual information that non-cell-using drivers do. A University of Utah study showed that the reason is “inattention blindness.” Drivers look directly at road conditions but they don't really see them because they are distracted by the cell phone conversation. “Looking and seeing are not one and the same,” said the study's authors. By contrast, the researchers found that listening to the radio or conversing with passengers is not as hazardous.

Maybe LaHood and Genachowski can together come up with some solutions, but the most obvious one is to legislate against phone use while driving. Make all the arguments you want about how similar eating, drinking and listening to the radio are to the use of a cell phone, but nothing compares to the distraction resulting from a cell phone conversation.

Soon, we'll have mobile TV on our cell phones. One can only wonder how much more enticing it may be to watch the news, weather and “Judge Judy” while driving. Some clever entrepreneur will probably offer a convenient cell phone dashboard mount.

Farding doesn't seem so bad in comparison.

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