You ought to care about using your cell phone in California

I've never lived in California, so I can generally agree with the bumper sticker I see occasionally around town, "Don't much care how you did it in California."

Sometimes, however, you just have to care. For example, if you're driving in California on July 1 or later, you'd better not plan on making a call on your handheld cell phone. You'll be breaking the law.

That's when new laws go into effect there prohibiting using a handheld phone while driving and, for teens, using even hands-free devices. The fine will be $76 the first time and $190 thereafter.

And yes, it applies to Nevada drivers who happen to be traveling in California.

This, of course, is not the law in Nevada.

Should it be?

Yes, I think so. It pains me to say that because I normally chafe against those kinds of regulations, but it's hard to focus on driving when you've got a cell phone up to your ear. And it seems like at any stoplight you can spot three or four people chatting away.

I don't normally use my cell phone when I'm driving ... usually it can wait until I get to where I'm going. A few weeks ago, however, I was driving to the scene of some late-breaking news as it was getting dark, trying to get information on the way there. I was reading a phone number in the notebook on the passenger seat, dialing it into my cell phone and, near as I can remember, glancing at the road to keep from smashing into other cars headed the opposite direction at 40 mph.

Fortunately, it quickly occurred to me how stupid that was and I pulled over.

We'd just run a story in the Appeal about a Fallon man who killed a 12-year-old boy with his vehicle because he was distracted fiddling with his cell phone and drifted into the bike lane. When I read that story, I hoped it would serve as a lesson to others, maybe even save a life.

Yet there I was a short time later granting myself an exception.

Driving is probably the most dangerous thing you or I do on any given day. We strap ourselves into these metal missiles and trust each other to protect those precious few feet that separate us as we whiz by in opposite lanes. Pedestrians and bicyclists trust us with their lives to pay attention.

That level of trust would never be acceptable to anyone designing a roller coaster or any other terrifying amusement park ride ... riding those attractions is much safer than the drive to the parks.

Will Nevada have a cell phone law one day? Who knows. For me it doesn't matter ... I'll be policing myself either way.


I'm fully expecting to be sick next week, based on deciding to mention in this column about how I never get sick. At least not sick enough to miss a day of work. Not once in 18 years in journalism. I did miss a few classes in college for non-hangover-related illnesses, but not a day in high school.

How's that for tempting fate? ... I can already feel the viruses planning their attack on my immune system.

This year was almost an exception. Whatever virus came through this winter broke through whatever defenses have protected me in the past and left me coughing for a month straight. On the worst days, I briefly considered staying home, but never could quite pick up the phone to break my streak. Instead, I did my best to stay in my office so as not to infect anyone else.

At that time, in January, this area was one of the hardest hit by the flu in the country, with about 14 percent of people suffering from cold symptoms. At least that was the case according to a Web site ( that purports to accurately track such things. And it seemed about right, as just about every employee here went down for the count at some point. Much of the rest of the country was healthier than normal, however.

If that Web site is right, maybe, just maybe, we're getting over it, even though I talk to people daily who are at home with the flu. It says we're moderate now, with anywhere from 8-14 percent of people reporting symptoms. The worst city right now is Albany, N.Y., at more than 16 percent.

Thursday's Wall Street Journal calls this one of the most unpredictable flu seasons in years, saying it peaked later - in late-February - than in previous years. And for those of you who stood in line for flu shots ... it turns out that time may have been better spent on other endeavors than pointlessly getting jabbed with a sharp needle. The most prevalent flu strain this year was different than the one the shot was designed to protect people against.

Why is that story in the Wall Street Journal? Well, there's an economic impact as well. The late start to the flu season is probably why Kleenex sales were down 12 percent. Cough medicine was down, too, according to the CEO of Walgreen Co. (the paper quoted him as saying to a group of shareholders, "We're really hoping for a very strong flu season.")

If that's what it takes to give the economy a boost, bring on the recession.

• Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at 881-1221, or via e-mail at


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