Saturday, November 26, 2005

Thou shalt not text message behind the wheel

You have to feel a little bit sorry for the Colorado teen who is up on misdemeanor charges for inattentive driving after an accident cost a bicyclist his life. Sorry, in the sense that the teen could face up to a year in prison for text messaging while driving. A year in prison is no picnic.

And yet there is the dead cylist to consider. A wrist-slap is not going to send the right signal to the millions of Americans who are spending a good deal of their driving time "impaired" by cell phone use of one kind or another.

What is it about cell phones? Every day you see erratic driving, swerving vehicles, red lights ignored, green lights also ignored, vehicles stopping suddenly for what seems to be no apparent reason. So you look carefully as you pass by and you see that driver is talking on a cell phone, or trying to dial or a number or, apparently, text messaging.

We weren't sure whether the controversy over cell phones was real -- several studies have shown a most discernible impairment for driver users -- until we obtained our own cell phone earlier this year. (After vowing never to own one, of course.) So by now we have conducted our own risk tests.

We've never had a problem with dialing in a radio, popping a cassette tape, or even a CD player. We've been distracted by girlfriends, but never to the extent of not knowing what was going on around the car. Later we were tempted to distraction by wailing babies and antsy children, but found that focusing attention on the road was a means to block out the distractions. We knew a guy once who was killed changing his 8-track tape, but he was known for his inattentiveness well before he got the tape player. We found a CB radio was an aide to driving attentiveness (boy, we are showing our age today). Technology, no problem! We can eat a double cheeseburger, fries and a large Diet Coke on the go with nary a jiggle of the wheel, let alone a missed stop light.

But the cell phone is a different beast, and we do not comprehend the reason. All we know is that it seems much more difficult to maintain a phone conversation and awareness of the immediate world. Somehow the all-important brain waves that control awareness seem diverted into the ozone. This is troubling, as we pride ourselves on expert automotive reflexes and control.

So we don't EVER make cell calls from the car, and we try not to take them either.

And only an insane person or a teenager would ever try to text message while driving.

In our humble opinion, naturally.

If you have kids with drivers licenses, talk to 'em about this. Let them read about the Colorado kid. If they give you any static, you have our permission, just this once, to slap them silly.

Sure that's tough love, but it's better than a dead cyclist on the side of the road. Or a dead son or daughter.

And if you're too modern to use a real slap, find a metaphorical one that will get their attention. Use your imagination. Cut off their allowance. Steal their car keys.

Whatever you do, set a good example. It's getting dangerous out there.


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