In a way, one could argue that cell phones actually have decreased road rage, since it's difficult to make obscene gestures with one hand gripping the phone.

But instinct Ñ and increasing sales of 'hang up and drive' bumper stickers Ñ suggests otherwise.

Tests show that cell phones can be as distracting as a few stiff drinks, and proof of that could be found recently at Portland International Raceway.

More than 100 drivers participating in a promotional program sponsored by Subaru took two laps around a twisty, 400-yard course. As they drove, they were questioned by instructors talking on cell phones, who insisted that they speed up. Eventually, many succumbed to the distraction and plowed through cones in the corners, accompanied by beeps as they accidentally hit the horn with their steering hand.

'You just can't steer around tight corners with one hand,' said Jeff Tomlinson of Vancouver, Wash., who competes in autocross races. 'If your hand slips, you get crossed up Ñ and in an emergency, it doesn't do it.'

Eric Lipson drove down from Seattle for the event, which included a wet-handling course. 'I did the cell phone course twice,' he said. 'I got better É I was faster, but I hit a cone this time. So maybe not.'

Nick Manz of Lake Oswego drove with his father, Christian.

'I hate cell phones. I don't use one when I drive, and I despise people who do,' he said. 'But I got distracted when the instructor was asking me about this video game I'm playing. I guess I drove onto the sidewalk and killed a couple of imaginary pedestrians.'

Ñ Paul Duchene

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