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Cell phones at red lights - a moral, ethical, and philosophical quandary

I’m a professor, and I recently had an experience that still makes my blood boil at a notoriously slow red light by our university campus. Stuck in a long line of cars waiting for the light to change, my phone buzzed, and I picked it up to look at it. I NEVER look at my phone while the car is in motion, but I don’t see how a brief look at a red light is dangerous to anyone. This particular day, an especially smug and obnoxious undergrad in the SUV to my left noticed what I was doing, and took it upon himself to start honking and chastising me for my behavior. I was not amused. This continued for a few blocks (during which time he switched lanes with no signal twice, but that’s another story). He continued yelling and honking through my now tightly closed window that I should get off my phone, which I was no longer on because my car was again moving.

Which of us should repent for our behavior?

Him. He was being a jackass, and trying to incite an incident. Fortunately for him and everyone around you, you’re apparently not a hothead, because some people would have reacted violently either with or outside of their vehicle.

In my state what you did is illegal, however I disagree that it should be. I don’t see that you’re placing anyone in danger by looking at your phone when your vehicle is not moving. If the light happens to turn green while you’re looking, then you might briefly inconvenience the person behind you, but generally they will angrily honk you within 3/4 of a second. :wink:

That said, safest practice is to reserve phone time for when you’re out of traffic entirely, or on a hands free device.

Another reason for me to dislike SUV drivers…

SUV driver not inclined to dislike suv drivers, biased for sure. Sorry I have a boat and trailor I need to tow from time to time, and as much as I would love a prius, it is not up tp my needs. Now I understand the feeling, used to be there till I got an suv, but the make of a car is not my instant dislike factor, as I think it is more driver than vehicle related issue. @insightful

The SUV driver is a doofus. While I’m not saying that you would ever resort to such a thing, several similar drivers around here who did what the SUV driver did lost their lives because of it. One at the end of a gun and the other due to a knife blade.

SUV driver out of line here.
The phone rings , or messege clicks…you look at the phone…THEN you decide what to do about it…but you at least begin by looking at the screen to know that.

On my way home there are nice wide berms most of the way and I just ease over there to stop and talk or text because I really must know…on this side of town…what the family on the other side of town needs from me…before I drive all the way over there and find I need to come back here again when I was just here. This is a huge gas savings if I can know and plan one co-ordinated trip.
So, I must answer the phone first.

The SUV driver is clearly out of line and probably a moron to boot. I never talk on a cell phone while driving but I occasionally get texts that I glance at. I position my phone to make the glance as quick as possible. That SUV driver has no idea what’s going on in your life at the moment so his behavior is reprehensible…in my opinion. I have to glance at several gauges on my dash so I see no difference when I check a text. I pull over in a safe area if I need to talk or text and I believe that should be the norm. Stepping off the soapbox now.

It’s illegal in a lot of states, moving or stopped, unless you’re hands free. As a motorcyclist, it pisses me off daily.

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Sounds to me like he was angry about something else in his life and took it out on you as road rage, creating a more dangerous situation for everyone in the vicinity.

About an hour ago, I was at a traffic light, behind a woman in a Honda Civic who had her head down, apparently peering at her lap almost constantly. When the light changed, she slowly accelerated to ~22 mph–on a road with a limit of 45 mph. She still had her head down most of the time, and was–literally–all over the road.

I had the misfortune to have to drive behind her for the next 3 miles or so, and it was obvious that she spent the vast majority of her time looking down at…something. When she continued to drive way below the speed limit and to wander all over the road, I gave her a few short taps on the horn, in order to make her aware that there were people behind her, and to–hopefully–shame her into actually paying attention to her driving. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful.

When the intersection with my road came up, I was thankful that I wouldn’t have to be behind her any longer, but as I turned I could see that she was still paying far more attention to…something…in her lap than she was to the road. I have no doubt that it is only a matter of time before she is going to run into a car, or an animal, or a person, and cause extreme damage or death.

I recently tapped my horn at a speeding car that came up behind me and then rapidly switched lanes to pass on the right. It’s a busy commercial street with moderate but not dense traffic and I was traveling a reasonable speed with the flow of other traffic. He was weaving in & out of traffic and came up on me so fast that his erratic driving scared me, so I tapped my horn as he passed. He proceeded to pull in front of me and slam on his brakes. Since I was going a reasonable speed and he was speeding there was enough distance between us for me to stop in time (in the middle of the road, risking being rear ended myself), but he clearly reacted in a disproportionate manner to being called out on his dangerous driving. Thankfully he then did slow down as he drove away and left me alone, but I turned and took another route home to avoid another encounter with such an angry, irrational human being.

Sometimes other drivers are just inexplicably angry and reckless. They rarely appreciate being reminded that their behavior is inconveniencing and/or endangering others.

Some people just aren’t happy unless they’re miserable. You have apparently met one.

I work with a few of those types of people

He’s a moron but unfortunately our future. Possibly even President some day.

While driving, just put your phone in airplane mode.

“While driving, just put your phone in airplane mode”.

I tried that once, but the phone kept flying around the car and hitting me in the head.


Unless you are part of an organ transplant team on standby, or have the launch verification codes for our nuclear ICBM’s I say PUT THE PHONE AWAY AND DRIVE. While the other driver’s behavior was boorish and rude I would say that anyone who NEEDS to look at their phone (red light or otherwise) has an over-inflated sense of self importance and is taking risks that are unnecessary. What could be SO IMPORTANT that it cannot wait until you arrive safely at your destination (or a safe texting stop in a parking area)?

Monday evening on the way home I witnessed a funny cell phone/drive incident. Funny in that no one was hurt.
In an outlying small community about 10 miles out of town I pulled up the stop sign on a county highway. There was a late model Dodge Durango approaching and I could see the lady driving it had the phone to her ear and head bobbing in an animated fashion.

She approached from my left and made a left turn in front of me. Apparently her intent was to turn into the gravel drive of the home located on that corner lot. This is a rural area and the drainage ditches are 4 - 5 deep with a large culvert under that drive.

She drove right off the side and put the left front wheel down into the ditch and high centered the Dodge. The right rear wheel was clearing the gravel by at least 2 feet.
I sat there chuckling and watching the show as she was revving it to the moon. Eventually the spinning RR wheel vibration, going between Drive and Reverse, and the rocking caused the SUV to flop back onto the RR wheel, dig in, and she then rocketed backwards out of the drive; throwing gravel everywhere.

I made my turn, glanced over as she was making another stab at the drive, and noticed she still had the phone in her hand.

To respond to the negative comment on SUVs… I used to feel that same way, until I needed a new station wagon to replace my Passat wagon. One choice was the Subaru Outback. But instead I picked the Forster. A bit cheaper, same drivechain, storage space, weight, but a bit higher seating position.

In other words, most SUVs have become the new station wagons.


I think it is morally okay and it is still legal where I live. If you are in stop and go traffic, how much time it would have saved the people behind you if you didn’t pick up the phone? I say none because you might had inched forward then stop. As opposed to picking up phone then maybe moving forward by two or three inches… I suppose one could argue someone could have cut in front of you but I would normally let people go anyhow because an accident or the other car taking up two lanes would cause even more delay.

It isn’t about the car it is about the driver. :wink: