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don’t let driving distract you

By enelson
Friday, September 14th, 2007 at 2:06 pm in driving, Safety.

As my son’s primary driving instructor, I had to say it:

“One hand on the wheel! How are you going to make phone calls, style your hair and eat breakfast without a free hand?”

Ok, so it wasn’t that bad, but I did have to train him to drive one-handed so he could operate the turn signal without weaving when hand No. 2 broke its grip.

Then, just this week while I was taking time off to make up for working all last weekend on the Bay Bridge closure story, my 18-year-old who’s taking his driver’s test Monday had to ask:

“Um, Dad? How are you steering the car with no hands?”

“You can’t tell?”

(This is what we educators call a “teachable moment.”)

After baffling my impressionable offspring with a hands-free lane change, I pointed to my knees so he could be in on the secret.

Hands? We don’t need no stinking hands!

Luckily my son is much more sensible than I am, a quality I’m at a loss to explain.
I wouldn’t have showed him my idiot commuter tricks if I hadn’t been sure he’d reject them as yet another crazy dad thing you shouldn’t try at home.

I ought to have been dismayed on Thursday when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed State Sen. Joe Simitian‘s bill that would prohibit new drivers, or at least those under the age of 18, from making even hands-free mobile phone calls or operating other communications devices.

But I understand that young drivers don’t pay attention nearly as well as, say, people of my age who have been driving with no hands for years.

And I can acknowledge that even adults can get distracted. I saw an excellent test of this on the Discovery Channel‘s “Mythbusters” show. Test drivers talking on mobile phones were so distracted that they had as little control as those with an illegal blood-alcohol content.

Mind you, they made the even more fascinating distinction of the driver listening to someone, presumably a spouse, recite a list of things that required only a series of “uh-huhs” to satisfy the caller at the other end, and drivers required to answer a complicated question.

Turns out that actually thinking while talking on the phone was what made people drive like drunks.

But I’m not sure about where society should travel when it comes to making the highways safe for driving.

Today I passed a whole line of adults with cell phones on their ears, an act which, thanks to last year’s Simitian bill, will be illegal come Jan. 1, 2008. I noticed them because they were all driving slower than I was in the far-left lane of I-80, and I nodded with approval at the thought of them being pulled over and handcuffed in the middle of rush hour.

But who am I to judge? I’ve prepared and eaten meals while driving. I’ve personally groomed myself while driving, although I’m happy to report that my days of hanging my head out the window at high speeds as a substitute for a hair dryer are far behind me.

An editor of mine, during a fill-in stint writing something called the Intrepid Commuter in the Baltimore Sun, told me that he had once seen someone driving a convertible while playing a violin. Like my son, he considered it patently stupid and made this known before I could express my admiration of the musician’s obvious skill.

I mean, as long as he’s not taking up the left lane…

I can and will, however, pass judgment on people in government who have no business regulating driving distractions.

Take the governor. I mean, didn’t I see him driving an 18-wheeler down an L.A. drainage canal, firing a pump shotgun? A pump shotgun! You need two hands do to that. Honestly.

So perhaps the next step would be to pass a law that bans violin-playing in convertibles.

Then there’s the communication that distracts us when we aren’t on the phone. I can recall more than one car trip where my attention may have shifted from the road even though my wife was exhorting me to keep better track of it.

Here’s a law: Under pain of imprisonment, a passenger bound by blood, marriage or domestic partnership to a motor vehicle operator shall be prohibited from rendering advice unto said motor vehicle operator.

Think of the lives saved, damage prevented, marriages preserved.

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4 Responses to “don’t let driving distract you”

  1. kim enos Says:

    cellphones are not only a rite of passage for children they they should also be considred so for adults as well- most adults I have come across make it as deadly a combo as the kids do if not more so-The $20 offense kids care less about that amout, or even the $50- It needs to be much stiffer if you want to make them take notice- Make the first offese something they and their parents will notice and the second revoke their license-Adults also need this same kind of law if not something stiffer as we are the ones who are supposed to be setting the example for our children and if I may say we are not doing a very good job!!!!!!!!

  2. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Kim, I believe you have a major point about the fines. They won’t have much impact with those of us who are well-outfitted with distracting electronic communications devices. Cell phones, smart phones, iPhones are all just distractions dujour. Drivers have all kinds of distractions and, if I may make an educated assumption, they aren’t supposed to drive while engaging in them. What is needed is a law that covers distractions generally, so that police have the abilty to pull people over for any obvious display of mobile negligence. Think of how much weight we’ll lose when those McGriddles turn us into outlaws. There must be an exception for coffee, however.

  3. Liz Says:

    Maybe the coach operators also will get a hint to put the cell down and drive their bus. Don’t know how many times I passed a AC Transit or Wheels coach where a driver had the phone glued to their earlobes and calling in doesn’t do much.

  4. Don (San Ramon) Says:

    Bus drivers? How about every cop, also continuously on cell phones.

    And how about the distraction of GPS Naivgators? Sure there’s a powerup warning about not using them while driving, but that’s just Garmin’s CYA. I tried one, but find that I feel much more comfortable figuring out where I’m going pre-trip from home via Google Maps. If I get lost, I pull over & use Google Maps on my PDA to get back on track.

    And try to convince me that the guy at the auto stereo shop doesn’t know which wire to cut to let you watch a DVD on your navigator screen while driving, for a wink & a $20.

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