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The Ethicist
May 9, 2011

Adapted from Randy Cohen's column, "The Ethicist," which originally appeared in The New York Times Magazine.

Driving While Yakking

Family members and friends often ask me to call them on their cellphones while they're driving. I think that driving while talking on the phone is dangerous, and research studies support this. If I do call people while they're driving, I may endanger them and others on the road. What should I do?
JEFF MALACHOWSKY, Portland, Oregon

DON'T MAKE THAT CALL. Or blindfold a driver or bang a pair of cymbals near his head or do anything else that significantly ups his odds of getting into an accident.

Talking on a cellphone while driving does just that. Some studies liken the increased risk to that of driving drunk. Although other activities may distract a driver—listening to the radio, for example—talking on a cellphone is particularly hazardous. For a driver to deliberately increase his own peril is unwise; to endanger other people is unethical. You should not be a party to either.

Incidentally, the increased risk is a cognitive problem, a shift in concentration from the road to the call; unfortunately, many states bar drivers only from using handheld phones, leaving lots of drivers with two hands on the wheel and one ear on the conversation.

Rather than make (or, for that matter, take) such calls, you should offer to phone when that family member or friend is not behind the wheel—even if saying no may be awkward.

(The New York Times Upfront, Vol. 143, Date TK)