Monday, February 2, 2009


Max Newport

It seems that every year, at least for the past few anyway, a bill is introduced in the legislature to address an issue that we see or even commit on a daily basis. We’re talking distracted driving here folks. There are so many distractions but the main target of attention is the cell phone. During my short commute to work each morning, I would speculate that about one in four drivers that I see are on the phone. This of course means that the phone chatters are not only distracting themselves but distracting me as well for being stupid enough to count them while I was looking for a certain song on my iPod. Almost spilled my coffee.

It does appear that I am making light of a serious issue, but that is not my intent. I have read that up to 4,000 crashes are caused daily in the United States due to distracted driving and and 27 percent of all traffic fatalities are caused by simply not paying attention to the road. Some studies have shown that cell phone usage while driving has caused more deaths than drunk driving, so this is serious stuff that we are all guilty of at least to some degree. So what are we gonna do about it?

Here are a couple of websites that attempt to explain the problem. The videos have a nice junior high school class assembly quality that you will just have to watch to appreciate:

Distracted driving is nothing new. Windshield wipers were considered a distraction and almost outlawed in 1913. Several states tried to ban car radios, without success, in the 1930’s. Anything can be a distraction. Billboards are designed distractions. Anyone remember those Burma Shave signs?

When I got my license to drive on my 16th birthday, I had two major distractions that are not a problem for me today. My mom’s Olds 98 was the size of a small apartment and it had the now near obsolete bench seat. My second distraction was my girlfriend, Janet, who sat her mini-skirted torso so close to mine that had the gear shift been on the floor, we could have had some real problems. (By the way, if your name is Janet and you think I am writing about our old times . . . I’m not. Otherwise, how have you been?)

So there we were. Me as a newly licensed driver with the dual distractions of a bench seat with Janet nearly in my lap. Add an AM radio to the mix with WQAM blasting the hits through the single speaker. Hot town, summer in the city. It was probably the only time I recall when stopping for a lengthy red light was something to look forward to. Plus we had a real drive-in movie theater and a real drive-in restaurant. But if we wanted to make a phone call, we would have to get out of the car and look for a phone booth and a dime.

Geez. Bring out the wheelchair. I’m feeling old enough to be put in a home.
When I did buy my first car at 17, my parents were very supportive of the bucket seat concept with the gear shift on the floor. Now I understand why.

I think the point I am trying to make is that driving should be a full time activity since there are enough distractions inherent with the mere effort to get from point A to point B without seeking other means to prevent keeping your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. From what I have been reading of late, the most serious of the distractions for younger drivers is texting. How someone can text and drive at the same time is beyond my comprehension. The Matt Damon character in the movie “The Departed” was able to send a text message with his phone in his pocket based upon the sense of touch alone. He never even saw the keypad! I don’t think he learned that in the police academy.

My experience with cell phone texting has not been too extensive. It requires my complete concentration and even then the output gives the appearance of a newly discovered foreign language.

Several states have now made it illegal, an infraction not a crime, to operate a motor vehicle and use a cell phone. I’m sure that there is a bill in either the Florida House or Senate, I just can’t find it but I did find this.

Starting today, I will turn off my phone before I put the keys in my car. My voicemail message is a hoot so from now on a lot more people will be hearing it.

When I first starting writing this, I was planning on drifting into the topic of “teenage death songs” which were oh so popular when I was a dangerous teenage youth, but I kind of got distracted thinking about the bench seat and Janet. Distraction can affect more things than just driving.

“Tell Laura I Love Her” will have to wait another day. And if your name is Laura . . . never mind.


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