Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cell Phone Follies

Last July the state of California began to enforce a law that says you cannot use a cell phone while driving a car unless it is set up as “hands free.” To be “hands free,” you have to have a Blue Tooth hook-up so when you are talking to whoever it is on the other end of the line, you are not fumbling with trying to hold the ever smaller cell phone to your ear. Sounds reasonable.

Not so fast. If you’re like me, and I suspect that you are, the difficult part of making calls on your cell phone while driving is not holding the phone while zipping down the freeway at 75 miles per hour. The problem is initiating the call in the first place! Even if you have speed dial you still have to glance at the phone, even if for a moment or two.

I haven’t checked this out, but I’ve heard the fine for using the cell phone incorrectly while driving is pushing two hundred dollars. Ouch! Yet, I see more and more people driving around with their cell phone pressed to their ear. They’re yammering away without a care in the world. I’m particularly aware because I often see them make driving errors. It isn’t necessarily that it is a life-threatening mistake behind the wheel – it’s more likely to be one of those slight hesitation moves that makes the drivers of the cars around you wonder what’s going to happen next. Everyone is suddenly on their guard.

Wanting to be law-abiding, I initially started using a Blue Tooth ear device. I quickly became frustrated with this piece of hardware. I couldn’t find one that had a comfortable earpiece. It either would not stay in my ear, or if it did stay, it was uncomfortable. My wife bought a separate unit for me that does the same thing except that it is a small box that rests on the seat of the car and is connected through Blue Tooth. You speak as if on a conference call. It works marginally well. Often folks tell me they can’t hear what I’m saying to them. So I pick up the box and speak closer to the transmitter. “That’s better!” they say. Well, nuts! That doesn’t help anything on my end! I now have a hand that should be helping control a hunk of steel rolling down the road occupied holding this box up to my face! My eyes immediately begin to scan the road to make sure there isn’t a policeman just waiting for me to slip up.

Then there’s text messaging. This has become an art form which I will admit the young are much more adept at performing that I am. They let their fingers fly over the keypad sending and receiving messages ad nauseam. It would seem they don’t even have to look at the phone to accomplish this task. Ah! But they have to read what’s being sent to them. There’s the danger!

But let me ask you – is it any less dangerous for a person to drive a car while actively engaged in a conversation with someone in the passenger’s seat, or the rear seat? Some people are very animated talkers, with hands flying around and head turning to make eye contact with the other person who always seems apprehensive to me, watching the road more intently than the driver. Are we going to see legislation forbidding people from talking to their passengers?

I suspect this law forbidding folks from using their hands to hold a cell phone while driving will go the way of other laws that are archaic and were silly in the first place. Like in Illinois, a car must be driven with a steering wheel! California law prohibits a woman from driving while dressed in a housecoat. In Memphis, Tennessee, a woman is not to drive a car unless a man warns approaching motorists or pedestrians by walking in front of the car that is being driven. In Tennessee, it is against the law to drive a car while sleeping! In New York, it is against the law for a blind person to drive an automobile. You get the idea!

I will conclude with this suggestion. If you are going to use a cell phone while driving, please respect other drivers and pay attention to what you’re doing. Otherwise, make the call later after you’ve arrived at your destination. If the call is that important, pull over!

One last silly law for your amusement: In Utah, birds have the right of way on any public highway! You gotta love it!

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