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Using Your Cell Phone as a Tool for Personal Safety

by Melissa Nichols

Last year more than 30 million people called 911 on their wireless phones to report traffic accidents, medical emergencies, and even crises in progress. Many of those callers were women, and 95 percent recently polled in an industry study believe that their wireless phones provided a vital lifeline in emergency situations both on an off the road.

It's no surprise to us at Comcast Cellular Communications, Inc., that more women are relying on their wireless phones for safety. In fact, sales of our phones to women are sharply on the rise. With more of us juggling careers and family obligations, we often find ourselves driving to the office in the morning, picking up our kids late in the day, taking them to soccer practice, then jumping back in the car to pick up dinner. In such a fast-paced, mobile world, we need reliable safety tools that can keep up with our changing lifestyles, and wireless phones more than fit the bill.


The wireless industry has grown dramatically since companies such as ours were granted licenses to provide service back in the 1980s. In a little more than 10 years, the customer base grew from approximately five million people in 1985 to more than 50 million today.

With more women using their cars for work, child transportation, travel, and even job-sharing or telecommuting, there clearly was a need to educate them regarding how to use their wireless phones as safety tools.

One of the ways we've tried to convey the safety message to women is by bringing experts such as Detective J. J. Bittenbinder, the Chicago detective who advocates women using wireless phones to call for help, to speak to our customers.

In a lecture he gave at The International Women's Show in Philadelphia, hundreds of women from all walks of life gathered to hear his compelling message.

Perhaps Bittenbinder's most dramatic message for all women, young and old, is that without a wireless phone in your car, you could literally be taking "the last trip of your life."

He illustrates this with the tragic example of the New Jersey college student, Tammy Ziwicki, who was brutally murdered when her car broke down on a deserted road, allegedly by a truck driver who stopped to give her a hand. With no way to call for help, she got in the truck with the driver and never came back alive. Instead of going to college, she became another sad statistic--one that didn't have to happen.

What was so compelling for us about Bittenbinder's recommendations was the simple steps women can take to protect themselves while on the road. For example, he offers some terrific tips for women that make sense.


Having a personal safety plan is among the most salient, and all of us can do that by thinking through every eventuality while driving that could possibly lead to harm. Just like the scout motto "Be Prepared," so should we in situations that might be difficult to imagine, yet do happen more often than we'd like to believe. Some of these potential dangers have been widely reported as a result of the recent wave of carjackings, assaults, and robberies that have occurred on our nation's highways.

Bittenbinder outlined in his presentation how women who encounter any of these possible threats can use their wireless phones to avert a horrific outcome. Here are some of his primary recommendations:

1) If another car bangs into yours, intentionally or otherwise, stay in your car and immediately call 911 for help.

2) If another car is obviously following you, keep driving, hold up your wireless phone for the other driver to see, and call 911. Drive to the nearest police station, and do not stop or get out of your car.

3) If your car breaks down, lock all windows and doors, call 911 immediately, and stay in your car until help arrives.

4) Always put your purse under your seat, and never put it next to you where it can be seen.

5) If you approach a traffic light, try to keep a little distance between your car and the car ahead of you, just in case you need to drive away quickly.

6) Always keep an eye forward and on your rearview mirrors when you stop at a light, and observe how many people are moving about. If you feel uncomfortable, or you see someone approaching your car, don't hesitate to call 911.

Women can help other women too. If you see a woman in trouble on the road, call 911 and give the location of the incident, description of the car, or any other relevant information to assist emergency personnel.


One of the ways we encourage our customers, particularly women, to be "Wireless Good Samaritans," is through our annual "Good Samaritan Award." The event is held each year in May to commemorate "National Wireless Safety Week," an industry initiative to nationally recognize people who have used their phones to promote community safety.

It has been rewarding for us to have met so many wonderful women and men, in the process, who have helped save others' lives by calling 911 on their wireless phones.

Our winners have ranged from a 13-year-old girl who helped rescue a family whose car overturned in a storm to our most recent winner, who called 911 and stayed at the scene after a motorist experienced a life-threatening medical problem.

We've also read hundreds of letters from women who have helped themselves or others, or simply felt better knowing they're just a phone call away from safety.

As a woman and an avid wireless user, I can say with great confidence that having a phone in my car is a priceless gift. And for any woman who finds herself spending more time in the car, the cost of a wireless phone is a small price to pay for knowing that she and her family are safe.

Melissa Nichols is vice president of corporate communications for Comcast Cellular Communications, Inc., the fourth largest nationwide carrier in the nation. The company is a division of Comcast Corporation, headquartered in Philadelphia, Pa.