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The Cell Phone Zombie Phenomenon

By Michelle Campbell

So you’re driving along in the fast lane at 65 miles per hour (well, maybe 80). You’re going with the flow, feeling good. And then all of a sudden, the car in front of you slows down and leaves a gaping hole between himself and the car in front of him. This space increases to about 50 car lengths, and that’s when you notice the cell phone attached to his ear. This is the phenomenon known as the “Cell Phone Zombie.”

How to Spot a Cell Phone Zombie

Cell Phone Zombies may exhibit any or all of the following annoying behaviors:

  • Sudden decrease in speed of 10-30 miles per hour
  • Letting 20 cars cut in front of him
  • Cutting across four lanes of traffic on the freeway to avoid missing an exit
  • Making lane changes without using a turn signal 
  • General lack of driving skills

Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area all of my life and commuting to various cities during the past 10 years, I must admit that I too—at times— have become a cell phone zombie. I’ve missed exits or suddenly realized that I have absolutely no idea where the hell I am. A very scary feeling! Does being hands-free alleviate this syndrome? Absolutely not. It’s as if the mind is somewhere else (hand-free or not)  while talking on the phone and it’s definitely not paying attention to where the body is. I must give the body credit for keeping the car moving on a forward trajectory and most of the time avoiding life-endangering maneuvers, but as national statistics show, talking on the phone while driving increases your chances of being in an accident.

How to Avoid Being a Cell Phone Zombie

So the answer here is obvious: don’t talk on the phone while driving! If you must talk on the phone, follow these rules of thumb to ensure your safety and the safety of others:

  • Limit phone conversations to 90 seconds or less - vsay what you need to say fast, and get off the phone
  • Use opportune moments to make short calls - while stuck in stopped traffic, waiting at a stop light, when traffic is light
  • Pay attention to your surroundings - make a mental note to yourself before making a call to pay attention to all street signs and surrounding cars and to make that your priority
  • Do not make calls while driving at high speeds or in heavy traffic
  • Do not rely on phone conversations as your commute entertainment - listen to talk radio, music or an audio book instead of gabbing

Michelle Campbell is a Communications Consultant from San Jose, CA. She has lived in the Bay Area for over 30 years, and has commuted for the past 10 years on some of the nations most heavily traveled and dangerous freeways. During the past 10 years, Michelle has only been in one car accident, where she was rear-ended by a cell phone zombie.

Monkey Meter asked visitors how often they used their cell phones.  Here are the results.