The National Transportation Safety Board recently proposed a nationwide ban on using cell phones while driving, although they are now reconsidering it. This ban would include talking or texting, in hand or hands-free.
It’s already illegal in many jurisdictions to talk on a cell phone while driving. California comes to mind, where it’s okay to communicate via cell only if using Bluetooth. It might also be illegal to text and drive in some states, Michigan being one.
I’m all for following the letter of the law, and I obey the local covenants. I can see the impetus for such a proclamation, and that would be for public safety on our highways. Distracted driving can cost you your life. Being in the traffic safety business, I agree with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that new drivers especially are not equipped to deal with an overload of distractions a normal, modern teenager might have to contend with. Like everything in life, the route to mastery doesn’t happen in a heartbeat. The only road to continued safe driving is practice, and lots of it.
That being said, I am wondering how a nationwide law of this type can be implemented. There are millions of cars on the road, and not enough law enforcement. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to transform the thinking of that many people. Seat belts have been required equipment for decades, yet there are still traffic deaths attributed to the lack of seat belt use.
The American love affair with the car isn’t just legend, it’s real. The car can be our own private island, a cocoon that shields us from the outside world. I like to jump in and decompress. A car is not just a handy method of transportation. It can represent wealth (think luxury vehicles), or a love affair with power (think Corvettes), or even smug living (think hybrids). People eat, sleep, and groom in their cars. I’m currently learning conversational Japanese in mine. Courtships are germinated, and lovemaking takes place in cars. (Yes. Even while the cars are in motion.)
Many people work while driving, my husband included. He racks up many thousands of cellular minutes while driving from one location to another. It’s not that he can’t make telephone calls in the office, he can’t make uninterrupted phone calls in the office. I imagine he’s not the only one wheeling and dealing and putting out fires while on the road to Saginaw.
As a retired minivan mom, I can tell you that we lived in the van until the kids grew up and got their own wheels. Some snowy commutes took hours, so the kids did their homework in the car. My car was a rolling mini-home, complete with amusements, snacks, and a change of clothing in case of accident. I was once such a talented multi-tasker, I could talk on the phone, shift my manual transmission, and hold a cup of coffee, all while keeping the two kids from hitting each other.
The proposed ban doesn’t begin to cover all driving distractions. If cell phones are banned, every other distraction should be outlawed as well. Mascara-applying offenders should pay $100. Eating and drinking, $50. Talking to passengers should carry the same stiff fine as talking to a person on the phone, hands-free or not.
Hell, make all cars one-seaters so that there will be no passengers to distract you. The tree-hugging environmentalists would love that –not. Auto manufacturers would also have to remove the CD players, DVD players, in-dash GPS, and radios from the cars. Can’t have distractions. Take out the cup holders – no drinks allowed. Remove the ash trays – no smoking allowed either.
For that matter, outside the car distractions have to be taken away as well. Billboards, road signs to upcoming fast food joints, even scantily clad girls walking down the sidewalks or buff bodies on road construction crews on hot summer days – they all have to go.
How about this for an alternative? Use common sense. Pull over if you feel a compelling desire to answer an email. Don’t have heated discussions on the phone, hands-free or not. Don’t text and drive.
Otherwise in the highly regulated new world, you will find that cars are just for driving.