Crazy or cell phone?

You've seen it, I'm sure. People walking down the street talking to themselves. Crazy or cellphone?

What really gets me are the people who wear the headsets even when they aren't talking on the telephone, but rather in anticipation of receiving a telephone call. To those people, I have this to say to you:

You're not that important. Get over yourself.

I remember a few years ago, I was in Los Angeles attending a little party and got a ride home from somebody who was heading my way. We got in the car, and she put on her headset before putting the car in gear. It was a half-hour drive. No telephone call.

Comments (53)
  1. Bruce Atkinson says:

    Putting you headset on in your car before driving is the safest thing to do.  If you don’t do that you should turn your phone off and not be tempted to answer it while driving.  I spend many trips in my car with my headset on and do not receive phone calls.  At the same time I have been driving along had a motorcycle accident happen in front of me and was able to start calling 911 before I had stopped the car.  I was then able to continue the call without bringing my phone with me.

  2. Rick C says:

    Right.  You don’t want to be in the position of putting the headset on once you receive a call.

    I have a bluetooth headset, but I stopped using it a while back.  I don’t use the phone enough to make it worthwhile.

  3. santeprog says:

    LoL! wearing headphones while they are talking on the phone! That is extreme… One other thing that gets me is people playing there music from ther phone’s on the tube so load, and then it is also such a bunch of crap that they are playing and forceing others to listen to it!

  4. yeehaamcgee says:

    Personally I think the whole issue of road safety with regards to mobiles is bogus. But even so, it is certainly more convenient to use a headset.

  5. SD says:

    One time I was walking down the street in Seattle and I saw a woman talking loudly while moving her head back and forth.  I thought to myself, "Is she wearing an earpiece or is she just crazy?"  And immediately, as if she heard my thought, she looked at me and replied "no, I’m just crazy."

  6. laonianren says:

    Research carried out in the UK shows that using a mobile phone while driving is more distracting than being slightly over the drink-drive limit (which is quite high in the UK, 80 mg of alchohol per 100 ml of blood, or 0.08% in US terms).

    It also shows that talking with a hands-free kit is just as distracting as using the phone directly.

    If you care even a little about anybody but yourself, please don’t use your phone while driving.

  7. Matt says:

    [Or just pull over to take the call.]

    I can imagine that people as dozy as this ( would do that on a motorway :)

    CallerID was the killer feature of digital cellular IMO. Not answering a call is such a lovely power.

    Incidentally I have never actually used a bluetooth headset – I suspect I am not popular enough to merit it.

  8. Bryan says:

    I remember an all-hands meeting we had once where the presenter hadn’t made it in to the office for whatever reason.

    He was driving at the time and once the meeting started he pulled over even though he had a hands free set.  I remember a lot of people being impressed with that – I certainly was.

  9. Miles Archer says:

    You can thank the hands free law for that.

    Anyway, I’m with you on the crazy or cell phone thought. The first time I saw someone in the supermarket chatting to the celery, I thought they were nuts. And, have you ever answered a question that you thought was directed to you, but was instead directed to a cell phone?

    I think that someone needs to invent a cone of silence that goes on when a headset users is on a call.

  10. Larry Hosken says:

    If I gave a ride to someone who I didn’t know that well and I had a headset, I’d totally put the headset on at the start of the ride.  If my passenger turned out to be a boring blowhard, I’d fake receiving a phone call.  “Oh, hey, sorry, I’ve got to take this.”  Then I’d occasionally say something conversation-ish into the headset.

    [Now that’s a compelling argument! I may have to concede. -Raymond]
  11. Tim Dawson says:

    It is true that in the UK the government thinks that being on the phone will make you a worse driver. I have no doubt that it makes some people worse drivers.

    I am legally allowed to fly an aeroplane, negotiate a clearance with air traffic control, take photographs out of the window and eat a sandwich, all at the same time. But I am apparently incapable of talking on my phone while driving.

  12. Metro says:

    Personally, I am saddened that you feel you have some reason to judge (and express) such a insignificant action of other people.

  13. James Schend says:

    Eventually they won’t even need to put radios in cars anymore, people will just constantly be on the phone while driving. I should write a 1984-esque dystopic on that theme…

  14. John says:

    Tim: That’s not comparing apples to apples.  Aircraft are typically VERY far apart, not to mention the benefit of having a 3rd dimension to travel in.  When you’re confined to 2 dimensions in a fairly limited space with lots of other vehicles, the game changes.  Even without other vehicles close-by, you’ve got a lot more room to maneuver in the air than on the ground (not to mention all the obstacles on the ground).  Despite best efforts, near misses (or more accurately, near hits) do still occasionally happen, though this is mostly during takeoffs and landings when everything gets congested.

  15. Marc says:

    For anyone interested in this sort of thing, I highly recommend the book

    "Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)" by Tom Vanderbilt. It exposes a few myths, and points out a great argument for why we shouldn’t use the phone while driving, yet listening to the radio can actually make us more alert because it keeps us from daydreaming.

  16. Neil (SM) says:

    >>”Who needs to be on call every minute of every day? You’re not that important. Enjoy your solitude.”

    I think you’re just being insulting with no good reason there.  Nobody said anyone needed to be on call every minute of the day, just that it’s not unreasonable to put a headset on when you’re in the car — even if you end up not getting a call.  It doesn’t (necessarily) mean an overdeveloped sense of one’s importance.

    Although I do think that it was kind of rude for the person in your story to do that when you were riding along.

    [It seemed like a pretty low-percentage shot to me. How many calls do these people get per day where it’s worth the extra effort to prepare to receive one on a short drive? This was back in the days when headsets were bulky items (and not everybody had a cell phone to begin with). -Raymond]
  17. John says:

    I agree that these headsets are somewhat goofy, but I’m not sure why you single them out.  Most cell phone use annoys me; I don’t mind if you step outside, but when I am stuck listening to half of a conversation it is really annoying.  Even worse are the push-to-talk things; I suppose hearing both sides of the conversation is better than hearing one side, but now you have to deal with the most annoying beep ever invented.

  18. Ian Argent says:

    What I haven’t seen in regards to these "dangers of cellphone while driving" is a comparison to the distractions caused by conversing with a passenger, futzing with the in-car audio system (radio/CD/whatever), etc. I’ve told my wife a couple of times while she’s been in the car with me to please stop talking (either with me or with a third person (in-car or on the phone) in heavy weather or traffic as it is fairly distractiong (I find the third-party conversations to be more distracting than anything else).

  19. Marc says:

    I always think of the bad guys from 24 when I see people with bluetooth headsets. "They must be terrorists. "

  20. Greg says:

    I cannot stand it when I am in a store and the person next to me is talking, I think to me, so I respond, but they are talking on their headset phone.  Argh!

  21. Tom says:

    I’m glad this topic is non-computer computer section!

    I think I’ll have to side with Raymond on this one — it’s just not that important to be on the phone all the time.  I don’t own a cell phone, and I’ve been cell phone free for eight years having blown through a toll-booth without stopping because of it.

    As a programmer, my day is none-too-exciting.  I go to work, then I go home.  Everybody who needs to contact me has both numbers.  If I’m not at my desk, I’m in a meeting and don’t want to be disturbed.  If I’m not at home, then I’m out with friends and don’t want to be disturbed.

    How can I survive without a cell phone?  What about emergencies?  Frankly, I do what people did before cell-phones: planning.  I plan trips and tell people when and where I’m going to be and how to contact me; I carry equipment in my car such as tire irons, fix-a-flat, spare tires, jumper cables, etc. when driving, so I’m not stuck on the side of the road; I live in a major metropolitan area, it’s not like I couldn’t walk into a place of business if it were a real emergency and ask to use the phone.  

    I just don’t have what most people would consider "emergencies" — they are simply life detours.  Plus, if I were in a horrible accident (car, plane or otherwise), what are the chances that I could dial 911 anyway, or that the emergency crews would get there any faster?

    Finally, I’ve seen too many computer people get roped into being effectively on-call when they have cell phones, especially for family-related computer problems.  I just don’t need that headache, especially when I’m at work.

  22. njkayaker says:

    "Personally, I am saddened that you feel you have some reason to judge (and express) such a insignificant action of other people."

    One could reply to this with the following:

    "Personally, I am saddened that you feel you have some reason to judge (and express) such a insignificant action of other people."

    (But I’m not going to!)

  23. Gaspar says:

    For those people who state that it is safe to drive and talk on the cell phone as long as you have a headset, here is an article (one of many) for you.

    I’ll give you the tittle for free:

    "Hands-Free Phone Devices Not Safer In Car"

    My personal suggestion.  If you value the lives of others, don’t talk on the cell phone while driving…

  24. Bob says:

    Guess it’s better to put on a headset before driving a hundred times and not receive a phone call (and listen to smart-ass comments like this) than to not put on a headset before driving, receive a call while driving and crash while putting it on  once.

  25. Leo Davidson says:

    Bob, indeed, but that’s like saying it’s better to fill your car with fireworks than with dynamite.

    Not talking on the phone AT ALL while driving is safer than talking on the phone using a headset, regardless of when you put the headset on.

    My guess is that when you’re talking to someone who isn’t in the car with you then you feel obliged to respond quickly. Else you know they’ll start saying "Hello? Are you still there?" And that person has no idea what’s happening in the car so they don’t know when to shut-up and allow you to concentrate on driving.

    Talking to people in the car can be distracting as well but at least those people can look at the road as well and pause the conversation when necessary.

  26. Dean Harding says:

    You gotta give people a chance to miss you A LITTLE! — Jerry Sienfeld.

  27. xenon155 says:

    Its my opinion that the handsfree ‘phenomenon’ and in general overuse of blackbery is every companies way of getting you to work overtime for free.

  28. Nick says:

    [Who needs to be on call every minute of every day? … Enjoy your solitude. -Raymond]

    You have no idea how much I agree with this.  The current mentality of "must have zero reachability downtime" drives me nuts. Mobile communication is great for emergencies but I miss the days when you could walk to work without being bothered and the ignorant fools babbling in movie theaters were at least talking to someone else in the room.

    Faraday cages are my newest favorite inanimate object.

  29. Gene says:

    The problem with hands free laws is that the don’t address the actual problem.  I can be holding something in my hand and be driving just fine.  In fact, to drive a manual transmission you have to regularly not have one hand on the wheel.  Doesn’t seem to bother anyone any.

    The problem is the TALKING.  That’s the distraction.  Someone yelling into your ear is distracting whether it’s from the palm of your hand, looped around your ear, or is in the next seat over.

  30. Wang-Lo says:

    If a nice young woman gave me a ride home and put on her headset before starting the car, I’d whip out my cell phone and call her up for a nice chat.


  31. I thought there were more people out there who would post this Achewood from 2006.

  32. Anonymous Coward says:

    I kind of dislike the whole mobile phone thing. It has changed people’s attitudes toward each other in a dark and negative way. That even applies to us fixed phone users. People tend to demand that you’re reachable every single day, all the time. And people don’t know how to leave you alone anymore. You know what, you’re not my boss. And even if you were, it’s after hours.

  33. Matt says:

    In the UK any hands on interaction with the actual phone whilst in control (or otherwise :)) of a car is an offence. Placing the headset into your ear whilst moving *may* be construed as dangerous driving (inserting a cd is grounds for it over here).

    If you have reason to believe you will receive a call and you want to take it then inserting in advance (ahem) is the safest choice of the available options.

    The decision as to whether to take the call may depend on the person calling, a decent phone/headset should give you a whisper, you wife calling – don’t take it :)

    Obviously deciding to not take the call or even switching the phone off/silent are all better with regard to safety but there you go, make the best of a bad choice.

    [Or just pull over to take the call. Or even (gasp) don’t answer it. I remember the days when people were out of contact for HOURS at a time! -Raymond]
  34. DEngh says:

    >> issue of road safety with regards to mobiles is bogus

    Come drive around Los Angeles for a while.  The third (or thirteenth) time someone drifts int your lane while chatting away will convince you otherwise. Or when they run a red light they "didn’t see" while you’re passing through the on the crossroad. Or when they sit through a geen light, busy responding to a text.

    And yes, we *do* have a hands-free law.  It’s widely ignored.

  35. Grant says:

    It’s also a given that when you tell someone you’re a software engineer, they assume you’re a gadget freak.  I said SOFT, not HARD.  I’m almost ashamed to tell them that I don’t even have a cellphone and my home computer isn’t even dual core. ;-)

  36. Neil (SM) says:

    “Or just pull over to take the call. Or even (gasp) don’t answer it. I remember the days when people were out of contact for HOURS at a time!”

    Um, okayyyy, and some people even remember the days before computers when people did accounting on PAPER and did calculations by hand! So what? In some cases the point of technology is to make things more convenient.

    Putting on a headset is a convenient way to not have to fiddle with it while you’re driving and gee, maybe also to not have to pull over to have a conversation. I’m not saying anyone *needs* to talk on the phone all of the time, it just makes things easier sometimes.

    Are you really suggesting we shun conveniences afforded by technology because you think it makes some people look self-important, or as your response above seems to indicate, because you think things just should be more difficult for their own sake?

    [Who needs to be on call every minute of every day? You’re not that important. Enjoy your solitude. -Raymond]
  37. Studies are showing that talking on a cell phone, even with hands-free, can be more dangerous than conversing with another person in the car.  That said, suddenly pulling over on a busy road to answer a call can be dangerous too.  I’ll put a headset on when I’m going to be driving for 15 or more minutes and I think there’s a good chance that I’m going to get a call.  It’s not that I think I’m that important – but sometimes I am that important to someone else (e.g., my boss, a customer, my wife, my kids).  I try to keep the calls brief, but in a lot of cases it’s just better to take the call than not.

    I can’t stand watching drivers who are *obviously* distracted, whether by a phone call (usual), the radio, a child or pet in the car, personal grooming, etc.  But some people need to get over themselves and their silly and trivial complaints about other people wearing headsets.  (Sorry, Raymond.  I respect you TONS but I disagree this time.)

  38. Anonymous says:

    I think commenter Neil (SM) is right on the money. For me, at least, it’s about safety rather than convenience or trying to look trendy. I don’t even wear the thing outside the car.

    Constructive critics’ corner: You’re painting with too broad a brush here.

    [Well, yeah, because weasel words sap the power out of your writing. -Raymond]
  39. Waiting for your call says:

    I only put the headset on because I was nervous about sitting so close to the man of my dreams.  Every day since that night, I sit all day in my car waiting for your call.

  40. James Bray says:

    I’ve been debating getting a bluetooth headset.

    Not so I can talk on the phone handsfree… but so I *can* take my insane mutterings out into the public.

    Something very liberating about being able to walk down a busy street rabbiting away to yourself without a single person staring :-)

  41. Scout says:

    I always put on my Ultimate Ears before I put my shirt on in the morning.  That way the wires are hidden inside my clothing, I can listen to very HiFi music from my iPhone on the way to work, and if someone calls, I can press the "accept" button right next to my 3rd shirt button.  Just before pulling over.

    Sadly, because I look like such a goon, no-one ever calls.

    The music is cool though.

  42. Rusty says:

    This is not a nice post by Leo…

    It is insensitive to those of us who can’t afford cell phone service but are able to buy a really cool bluetooth headset to try to look important.

  43. Worf says:

    @Tim Dawson: The reason you can do this as a pilot is because of training.

    Firstly, there’s the "Big Sky Theory" – density of aircraft is extremely low, and midair collisions are exceedingly rare. Yet there are plane crashes quite often. The vast majority of aircraft accidents happen near airports, where there’s congestion, heavy workload, and the Big Sky Theory doesn’t take place.

    The roads, unless you’re from a rural location, are like airports – congested.

    Secondly, what’s the order of things when flying a plane? Aviate, navigate, THEN communicate (and many an accident in aircraft has happened when things weren’t done in this order, or when #1 wasn’t followed).

    Problem is, most drivers on cellphones give the cellphone highest priority. And when driving isn’t task #1, accidents happen, just like in the air.

    There are probably a few good drivers out there who can use a cellphone properly. Problem is, that isn’t normally the case. In fact, there already are laws on the books regarding driving while distracted – it’s usually something like "driving without due care and attention". But it seems that most drivers don’t believe in it, and we need laws against texting and using cellphones.

    If there’s one thing having a headset is useful for on a phone, it’s taking a call without having to take the phone out. Phone rings, answer call, cellphone doesn’t leave its holster. I’m fairly certain a number of accidents are probably caused by people dropping their cells trying to answer them (even though they shouldn’t).

    Me personally, I think they should ban cellphone use in cars. Too many times people drive like idiots and when you pass them, they got a phone glued to their ear.

  44. Jules says:


    Re. putting on the headset when you get in the car: I think it’s fair to say that the action of putting on the headset while driving would require you to take at least one hand away from the wheel, so it’s definitely safer to do it before you start moving.

    Not saying that it isn’t safer to not take the call, but some people don’t feel that’s an option.

  45. Aaargh! says:

    "Who needs to be on call every minute of every day? You’re not that important. Enjoy your solitude."

    Not every minute of every day, but there ARE times I need to be reachable immediately.

    Did you ever work for a small software company ? I work for one that sells managed services, usually these services come with some sort of SLA requiring at least a response to a problem within a certain time frame. When we’ve just launched a service, the original developers are usually asked to stay reachable for the first few days, just in case.

  46. Jim says:

    Once I was in a car with this girl who didn’t even wait for an accident before putting on her seatbelt.  She put it on *before starting the car*.  Half an hour later, you guessed it — NOT ONE CRASH.  I told her, you’re not that important!  God, get over yourself.

  47. laonianren says:

    @Tim Dawson: if driving a car was as easy as flying a plane we’d have had car autopilots years ago.

  48. A.G. says:

    Usually I agree with Raymond.. This one, sorry..  you’re just completely off the mark.

    I agree with Aaargh here and I’m in a similar position to him (different kind of work however) where I just need to be available.

    I can look like an idiot for all people care, I need to do my job.

  49. James Schend says:

    In fact, to drive a manual transmission you

    have to regularly not have one hand on the


    In the words of LOLCats: You’re doing it wrong!

    If your hands are off the wheel for more than a second in a manual transmission, you are either in the most unusual driving conditions ever, or doing something wrong.

  50. njkayaker says:

    @A.G. "where I just need to be available."

    What percentage of people who are "always available" actually need to be "always available"?

  51. One of the best things about the iPhone is that the headphones don’t make you look like one of those headset guys.  Also, people don’t try to bother you when you’re wearing the headphones.  I often leave them on even when I’m not listening to anything.

  52. Bob says:

    "I remember the [good old] days when people were out of contact for HOURS at a time!

    Well, finally we have proof that Raymond isn’t an old fart, but is actually hip and cool and would never yell at kids to get off his lawn.

  53. Thales says:

    Yes, that’s right! Also, why do people need to wear wristwatches even when they’re not looking the time all the time, but simply in antecipation of? Can’t they rather use pocketwatches like decent gentlemen do?

    I don’t use a headset, but I don’t mind people who do, as far as they follow good cell phone etiquette. Besides, if that’s part of their dressing routine, then they don’t need to get calls all the time for it to be worth putting the thing on, they just need to get a few calls every so often. Maybe the rest of us should just get over it and give the thing a break.

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