Scofflaws can be the death of you

Author: Barrett Rainey

Aside from being a more coarse society, we’re also a nation of increasing numbers of scofflaws.

Evidence is all around us. People who leave their garbage cans at the curb all week instead of just collection day. RV’s and other man-toys parked for months at neighborhood curbs in violation of local ordinances. Vehicles parked heading the wrong way into traffic. Trash thrown toward a garbage can but left on the sidewalk when it missed.

And don’t get me started on driving violations that endanger anyone within striking distance. You know: “I’m here. I want to go there. Get outta the way.” And more DUI’s reported every day.

But the most common scofflaw activity crossing my radar these days is talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving. With no exaggeration, it’s something I see every day, though Oregon has a law that makes it a primary offense for which a driver can be stopped and ticketed. Fairly expensive ticket, too.

Now I know officers can’t be everywhere. That’s what the violators of our new law are counting on. They think they can sneak in a call here and there without getting caught. Maybe it’s a game to them. Not to me. Not when I could be the unintended victim of their “game.” If it were up to me, I’d double the fine and demand forfeiture of the phone. First time! Jail if caught again.

Then there’s the matter of texting while driving. Now you and I might have more safety-conscious thoughts about that. But there are fools out there … damned fools out there … doing it. I’ve watched ‘em.

The texting-and-driving issue comes to mind because of a new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute. Never heard of ‘em but apparently it’s a fairly significant outfit.

Bottom line of the Institute’s research: “Laws against mobile devices to send and receive text messages while driving don’t reduce crashes.” What’s more, such bans don’t just fail to decrease the number of accidents: they may even increase the risk of more!

That surprising bit of data made me delve even further into the lengthy tome. Seems these legal bans have created more dedicated scofflaws. The reason the prohibitions don’t work is not only are people ignoring them, but they’re holding the phones lower … out of sight … and paying even less attention to their driving. They’re actually increasing the danger!

While noting the added risk, the Institute soft-pedaled possible solutions. One proposal made would be development of software to restrict texting features when vehicles are moving. The other would be the availability of more cars with equipment to read received messages aloud and voice-recognition systems to accept vocal responses. “That way, the report concludes, “the driver’s eyes are on the road.”

Road apples!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The problem with using cell phones while driving is not where your eyes are. Or where your ears are. The problem … the real problem … is where your head is.

At our house, we own two vehicles equipped with hands-free calling equipment. Both make phoning while driving legal in Oregon. I’ve tried it. And the use of the system doesn’t make me any safer behind the wheel.

Here’s why. Try it yourself. But don’t drive while trying it. Just sit. Get comfortable. Now start singing “America The Beautiful.” Out loud. Go ahead. Start singing. Keep it up. Sing one whole verse. I’ll wait.

Now, start singing the same refrain again. Out loud. But, silently, in your head, begin counting backwards from 57 while singing the words you just sang flawlessly. Go ahead. Sing out loud and count. See how far you get before you make a mistake; either with words of the song or the sequence of numbers. You will not be able to simultaneously do both to the end without error. Guaranteed!

Laws that allow hands-free phone calls miss the point entirely. Again, it’s not where your hands are. It’s where your head is. And now, in Washington State, California, Minnesota and Louisiana where driving and texting are illegal, scofflaws are taking their consciousness even further away from their driving. And crashes are increasing.

Sometimes, the result of a scofflaw’s illegal activity can seem harmless enough: wrong way parking, garbage tossing. But other times, it can be deadly: texting a pizza order while staring at the keyboard in your lap instead of the car coming at you in whose lane you are now driving.

It won’t be me doing the texting. I promise. But I may be in that other car. In my own lane. While you’re ordering a pizza you won’t live to eat.

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