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hands-free

By enelson
Tuesday, June 17th, 2008 at 6:58 pm in Misc. Transportation.

This morning I made an amazing discovery: I called 511 and discovered that even though I was in the farthest reaches of Solano County, I could get driving times! For two years, I’ve longed for the use of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s sensors to extend their Big Brother-like gaze to my far-flung section of Interstate 80. I learned that one could, at that moment in time, drive from Dixon to Oakland International Airport in one hour and nine minutes. Woo-hoo!
Just as I was coming to that joyous realization, I noticed some dust being kicked up ahead of me.
Then I noticed a pair of tires flipping into the air, still connected to a smallish green sedan.
In spite of my preoccupation with 511 Driving Times, I was able to hit the brakes and stop quickly without even engaging the antilock system.
My first impulse was to pull over behind the wreck along with four or five cars that were ahead of me but behind the overturned vehicle. But I decided to drive slowly around it, thinking there’d be less chance of getting stuck upstream of the accident.
As I pulled over, earbud still attached, I hung up on 511 and called 911. It seemed like five minutes until I got through. I even asked one of the other people who had pulled over if she’d gotten through, but she was also waiting. In the end, we both got through and were told that others had reported the accident already.
Luckily, the driver was only scratched up and bleeding a little from a forearm, but very shaken up, as one might expect.
I told her that although it was a terrible event, she was very fortunate to have been able to crawl out of the car and still be walking.
My own personal lesson was that I, too, was lucky. I’m often making light of the distractions that we solo vehicle commuters are often guilty of indulging in.
No, I didn’t fall to my knees and promise to never eat breakfast burritos while using the Interstate sign as a speed recommendation. And I didn’t throw out the battery-operated travel shaver or disable the e-mail function of my cell phone.
But I was reminded of how serious these distractions can be. Had I been dialing when that accident happened, I can’t be certain that I wouldn’t have lost the three-quarters of a second we normally have to react and I can’t be sure that the few fractions of a second after that would have been enough to prevent an even more destructive collision.
It also reminded me that even with the hands-free deadline coming up July 1, we still have a long way to go when it comes to distracted driving.
A colleague, upon hearing of the accident this morning, even made the comment that you won’t be able to send text messages after July 1.
Wrong. Assemblyman Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, slogged the halls of Sacramento for years, dogged at every step by wireless phone lobbyists, before he was able to overcome opposition and get this law passed. Toward the end of that campaign, I heard him say on the radio recently, he realized just how pervasive this texting thing and other electronic distractions were becoming.
Fearful of sabotaging the hands-free bill, he followed up with a modest bill prohibiting drivers under 18 from texting or fiddling with other electronic activities while behind the wheel.
But my 19-year-old-son, were he as incautious as his old man, will still be allowed to text and i-Pod to his hearts’ content, so long as he doesn’t hit anything.
I’ve always been fond of pointing out that there are already laws on the books in most, if not all states pertaining to distracted driving. But those aren’t usually enforced unless there’s a larger issue to deal with, such as an accident.
Luckily, I haven’t tested that enforcement paradigm. After today’s scare, hopefully I’ll be less likely to let that happen.

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