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Ten tips for using cell phones

Every driver has seen it: Motorists driving down a busy street with one hand on the wheel and another on their cell phone.

They're so absorbed in their conversation, there's little chance they're paying close attention to the next traffic light, the car ahead of them, the pedestrian waiting at a crosswalk or the traffic in the adjoining lane.

Witnesses to this behavior will often shake their heads in disgust at this disregard for safety - until they get a phone call and do the very same thing.

Cell phones have become such a strong fabric of life it seems only natural to bring them along in the car. In 1990, there were only about 4.3 million wireless subscribers, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. Today, there are more than 254 million.

In Minnesota, it's legal to drive while talking on a cell phone (if you're age 18 or older; text messaging will become illegal on August 1). But that doesn't give people a license to chat away without keeping their attention focused on the road.

To their credit, cellular companies realize that cell phone users should make safety their first responsibility when they get behind the wheel. Unicel, for instance, recently issued a news release in connection with Wireless Safety Week that reminds drivers what their priority should be, namely keeping their eyes on the road.

A cell phone can be a great safety tool -- as Unicel points out -- as long as it's used properly. It can be extremely helpful if your vehicle breaks down, for instance, or to report an accident or to inform authorities about a reckless driver who is all over the road. But having a cell phone in the vehicle also carries with it a responsibility.

Unicel offers these 10 tips for responsible wireless use while driving:

1. Get to know your wireless phone's features, such as speed dial and voice dialing.

2. When available, use a hands-free device.

3. Position your wireless phone within easy reach when behind the wheel.

4. Let the person you are speaking with know you are driving, and suspend your call if necessary.

5. Do not take notes or look up phone numbers while driving.

6. Dial sensibly. Place calls when stopped or before pulling into traffic.

7. Do not engage in stressful or emotional conversations while driving.

8. Dial 9-1-1 or other local emergency numbers to report serious emergencies or crimes.

9. Use your wireless phone to help others in emergencies.

10. Realize there are times you should not call while driving - in hazardous weather conditions, heavy traffic or on unfamiliar roadways.

Cell phone users should heed these tips the next time they get behind the wheel. They should remember that as convenient and helpful as a cell phone is, they could be dialing up some trouble if they're not careful on the road.

-- Alexandria Echo Press