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Dialing for Drivers

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Gabbing on the phone and driving around town are two of the leading pastimes of high school students. Now a cellular telephone company wants to make it easier (and safer) for them to do both at the same time.

Ameritech, a Chicago-based cellular phone company serving the Midwest, has created a curriculum promoting "lifelong habits of car-phone safety,'' for use in conjunction with existing high school drivers'-education courses.

Developed in response to the growing number of dialing drivers--predicted to reach 20 million by 2000--the free program was offered on a trial basis to several Ohio schools last fall, and was made available to high schools nationwide this month.

"Like the car radio, the cellular phone is another tool that we must be taught how to use properly,'' says Nancy O'Connell,the director of safety education for Ameritech.

The phone-crazy high school student with a freshly laminated license might not appreciate the curriculum's advice that cruising and calling don't mix. The workbook recommends making calls only during full stops--at a roadside, during a long red light, or even while waiting at a railroad crossing.

To drive home this lesson of cautious car-phone use, the curriculum features an instructional videotape narrated by the professional race-car driver John Andretti.

"We thought he promoted a message of safety,'' Ms. O'Connell adds.

She did not note whether Mr. Andretti demonstrated speed-dialing.--S.K.G.

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