Thursday, May 29, 2008

Please Don't Read This While Driving

On July 1st of this year, California will welcome a new law regarding the use of cell phones while driving. Unless it's an emergency, it will be illegal to operate a vehicle and a cell phone unless you are using a hands-free device. It will still be legal, however, to drive and text.

I rode with a driving, texting friend. Once. She was not, as you may assume, a teenager, but rather an adult, otherwise sane, mother of two. We were returning from a weekend drive to Solvang to shop and visit friends. Just the sort of lovely trip, lovely day, that in movies typically foreshadows disaster.

While she was driving, my friend received a text message and immediately popped open her cell phone to see what it said. She was having trouble reading it, probably because of the bright, shiny sunshine of the bright sunshiny day, or perhaps she was distracted by the loud, persistent honking of the oncoming traffic as we repeatedly swerved into their path. Either way, when she finished reading the byte-sized novelette and returned to watching the road, I was greatly relieved.

Relieved until my friend decided to reply to the message, texting a response while maneuvering down what was now a dark, angry, twisting mountain road. "Perhaps it would be better to pull over and do that," I suggested as my complexion turned as pale as the stripe along the highway's edge.

"Oh, no, it's ok," she replied, “I don’t want to inconvenience you.” As I cowered in the fetal position in the back seat, I wondered how much we might inconvenience our rescuers when we tumbled down one of these scenic California mountainsides.

Although we made extensive use of both sides of the highway and some of the curb, miraculously we did not crash. The rest of the way home I prayed that my friend wouldn’t receive a reply and make us to endure another round of driving by Braille. I also pondered the fine line between polite behavior and the will to survive. At some point I should have risen from the safety of the back seat and insisted that she put Pandora's box-o'-doom down and just drive.

I don't write the laws. I didn’t know why texting wasn't also banned. Perhaps there was a strong, covert, pro-text lobbying organization in Sacramento. I asked Senator Joe Simitian, 11th District, the sponsor of the original bill.

The senator introduced the legislation in 2001, reintroducing it every year until it finally passed in 2006. At the time the bill was created, the senator said, texting was not yet an issue, since the technology was quite new.

However, as he moved the bill through the approval process, texting became more widespread, and the senator faced a difficult decision. Should he revise the bill to include texting and begin the lengthy process again, or move forward and get the hands-free bill passed? Not wanting to risk progress already made on the original legislation, Simitian opted for the latter.

“Part of the issue is addressed by SB 33,” Simitian added, “Which prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using any such device while driving.” SB 33 also goes into effect July 1st of this year. This age group is typically high-risk for accidents anyway, so taking the cell phone completely out of their hands is certainly a step in the right direction.

I asked him if there were any plans to add a no-text law. “We’re monitoring the data to see if there is a need to move forward with a ban on texting. If there is a need, we will introduce legislation to address it.” You would think that no one in their right mind would be crazy enough to text while driving. As you may have noticed, being in one’s right mind is not a prerequisite for driving our highways.

Does it really take a law to tell us that texting is dangerous? There is currently no law on the books specifically banning the following stupid things to do while driving:

  • shaving
  • putting on makeup
  • shaving, then putting on makeup
  • watching someone else shave and put on makeup

It only takes a second or two, the time needed to put down the razor and pick up the rouge, to really, really mess up your makeup. After that, someone else may need to help you shave. And dress. And feed yourself.

Have you ever peered into someone else’s car to see what they’re doing at 65 mph? Frightening, isn’t it? Not just what they’re doing, but what you’re doing. For you have just become a distracted driver, distracted by a distracted driver. And we all are so very, very ashamed of you.

Don’t wait until a law is passed. Make sure your brain is in gear before getting behind the wheel. Perhaps if we’re all just a smidge safer out there, the insurance companies will have mercy on us and lower our rates for good behavior. Hey, it could happen. Then we could afford to buy gas again.


Packsaddle said...

Soon, there will be no rights left in California.

What's next, truancy citations for homeschoolers without teaching credentials?


Anonymous said...

Ahhh Solvang. Back in the day, friends and I used to drive up to Solvang for the occasional weekend. We would eat our way though the entire village - back when a bazillion carbs didn't automatically attach themselves to my thighs. Sigh

I had no trouble with the driver because that was usually me and I had complete control over the radio and the 8 track. lol