Monday, July 9, 2001

Week of 07/09/2001

Cell Phones And Other More Important Distractions
- by David Matthews 2

"One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation." - Thomas Brackett Reed

I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret about me: I hate driving long distances!

I mean it. I’m not interested in "the journey". I only care about getting there. The car was meant to take me from point A to point B. So just get me to point B and I’ll be content, okay? If something happens in between that point that’s pleasant to look at, great. But if it slows me down or delays my journey, it pisses me off!

I’m not one of these people who want to live their lives inside their car. That just is not me. I’m not interested in putting in a stereo system that is more elegant than the one I have in my living room, okay? I don’t want a 50-CD changer in my trunk. If I had that in there, I wouldn’t have any room to hide the bodies of those drivers who piss me off!

And believe me, there are plenty of drivers who piss me off! I am not one normally prone to road rage, but after working several jobs that required me to drive long distances, I have come to hate these driving nuisances like Rudy Giuliani hates the First Amendment. I don’t condone aggressive driving, but let’s just say you wouldn’t want me sitting on a jury for just such a case, okay?

In fact, since I now drive about 100 miles a day through some of the busiest roads in Metro Atlanta, I can tell you that there are PLENTY of things that piss me off about driving.

For starters, I have to put up with those construction truck drivers who decide that rush hour is a SWELL time to start their journey. I have to deal not only with huge bulky vehicles that drive five miles an hour slower than an Edsel, but I also have to deal with the projectile spray that these trucks give off of whatever rock or loose gravel is on the road. My windshield has more cracks in it than the Liberty Bell thanks to these jackasses! Stay back 100 feet my ass! More like stay back a mile! These things can hurl items about as fast and as reckless as John Rocker!

Oh, and speaking of road debris, you have to admit that Georgia Highway 400 and Interstate 285 have got to be Georgia’s sweetest deal for the Department of Transportation! There isn’t a stretch of it that is not under some kind of construction at any given time of the year. And what a wonderful game of Three-Card Monty these guys are playing! Start seven or eight different road projects at the same time, and then you guess which one they’ll finish first. It makes you wonder if Survivor creator Mark Burnett came up with some of his more memorable challenges from watching DOT workers.

Then we have the soccer moms and soccer dads who feel that their precious little Johnny Dimple and Suzy Purebred are just too precious to be put on that big yellow carpool service that they pay taxes for. (Not to mention the same taxes you and I pay, even if we don’t have any school-age kids.) So they get loaded up on that suburban tank people have the nerve to call a Sports Utility Vehicle and are personally trekked to school. And then, because these parents make this incredible "personal sacrifice", they feel they have the right to drive like complete maniacs so they can still get to work on time.

Hey jackoffs! You want to get to work on time? Put the kid on the bus and shut the hell up! There’s a difference between making a personal sacrifice and sacrificing the rest of the world because of your personal decisions! Guess which side of that fence you’re sitting on?

Then we have the "bouncing brat" vehicles. That’s when those aforementioned soccer moms and dads have their little brat bouncing about in the back of the SUV like a Mexican jumping bean. These kids are walking examples of not only child restraint seats, but also of birth control. All you need is a picture of these little tykes in the backseat of a SUV with the caption: "Use a condom, or THIS will be your future!"

And, of course, we have the "time-savers". These are the people who figure they can shave a few extra minutes in the day by taking care of all of the basic morning essentials while driving. I’ve seen people eat breakfast, put their hair in their curlers, read the newspaper, drink their morning coffee, shave, brush and floss their teeth, and even get changed into work clothes, all while driving. About the only thing I haven’t seen people do is take sponge baths while in their cars. (Of course, with my luck, if I were to see it, it probably would be some butt-ugly overweight guy and not a former bikini model.)

But the most dangerous of these "time-savers" has to be the women who spend their time farding.

No, not FARTING, as in passing gas, breaking wind, or releasing an otherwise odiferous smell. I mean FARDING, with a "D". As in the French word to put on makeup.

I kid you not when I’ve seen some mascara queens lug a BUCKET from the back seats of their cars just for the purpose of putting on their makeup. A bucket! Neither a purse, nor a small tote bag, but a plastic Rubbermaid container! And if you happen to be behind one of these women, you had better get around them, get past them, or otherwise stay clear of them. If you cannot do that, then be prepared for sudden stops and quirky lane changes, because that is the only thing they will be capable of doing short of getting into an accident. They certainly won’t see you, because they’ve got every single mirror (yes, even that far mirror on the passenger side) pointed at themselves!

You’ll notice that I mention these things as annoying drivers, but not the driver with the cell phone. Well, there is a simple reason why… and no, it’s not because I have a cell phone myself.

The simple reason is that many of these other distractions are far more dangerous than is someone with a cell phone!

Check out some statistics and you’ll see for yourself. A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says that phone use was cited for only 1.5% of traffic accidents. That’s far less than the 29% who were in an accident because of something they saw outside of the car, or of the 11% of accidents caused by people changing the settings on their radio, or of the 11% who were distracted by the passenger. (Remember those "bouncing brats"?) There was no mention of what percentage was caused by women farding.

Then again, there really hasn’t been too much unbiased research into what kind of distractions contribute to accidents. Two researchers from Canada published a pretty damning report in the New England Journal of Medicine that castigated cell phone users. They claimed that a driver using a cell phone was four times more likely to be in an accident than a driver who was not similarly distracted.

Mind you, they don’t mention how high the risk would be for women drivers who put on makeup, or male drivers who are shaving. They don’t mention how high the risk would be to those "hi-fi" users who were busy changing the CD tracks on their stereo. And they certainly don’t mention how high the risk would be for those SUV drivers who have those unruly tykes or are driving like maniacs because they’re late for work after dropping those tykes off at school.

However, a biased or even somewhat opinionated report is all the government needs to act.

The State of New York became the first in the nation to outlaw people from using a cell phone while driving unless they use a "hands-free" system. Other states are considering similar legislation. The author of the NY ban says that even that would not be enough. He wants cell phone use banned from cars, period. He even wants people who use cell phones to be arrested like police do for drunk driving!

And sadly too many people are jumping in with this luddite insanity. The anti-cell crowd often pull both the Canadian study and public opinion polls that are always in their favor. Their message is blunt and straightforward: "See? The whole world says these things are dangerous! Why aren’t you thinking like us?"

Every time I hear these trained parrots of the luddite community spout off such drivel, I’m reminded of the old question about what I would do if everyone jumped off a bridge.

"I’m a lemming, you’re a lemming, he’s a lemming, she’s a lemming... wouldn’t you like to be a lemming too?"

Their arguments are no more different than those of the anti-sex moralists who think that ridding the world of Playboy Magazine and strip clubs would bring about a more "pure" society. They, too, use flawed research and misleading public opinion polls to convince both legislators and the general public that what they do is right. It doesn’t make it right.

Let’s get brutally honest here… we don’t need some damned legislation being forced on us when the real solution is rests with common sense!

Do we need to be gabbing on the cell phone when we’re driving? NO! It’s not some trade secret. That message has been pounded into us on a regular basis for years now. We’ve been told time and time again to pull off the road if we’re going to blab on the phone, or to use a hands-free system. The cell phone dealers have certainly been telling us that for years now!

That is a far cry over the kinds of messages we’ve been getting from the makers of other driving distractions. Where are the public service messages from Mabelline and Mary Kay Cosmetics about not putting on your face while driving? Where is the effort by JVC and the other hi-fi folks for an affordable "hands free" stereo system?

And don’t get me started about the latest commercial for Church’s new take-out chicken nuggets! Yeah, while we’ve got state and local idiots trying to ban cell phones, we’ve got fast food restaurants telling people to go ahead and feed their faces while they’re driving! Yeah, driving while munching is okay, but cell phones are not. Maybe some of these anti-cell luddites can explain that one, huh?

The truth of the matter is that cell phone makers have been taking a lot of crap for years for their products and how they are being used. We all hate having to deal with the prick that uses the cell phone to demonstrate how "busy" his or her life has become. And, yeah, it’s funny to know some prima donna has a phone that rings to the theme of "Gone With The Wind", but when it is played for the umpteenth time in a restaurant or a crowded movie theatre it almost becomes an act of war.

The vanity of our more smug users of technology has given cause for us to despise the technology instead of the actions of the user, and that just is not right.

Adding fuel to the cell phone bonfire are all of the media stories of people hurt or killed in accidents where the driver was distracted by a cell phone. The most recent and notable of these accidents nearly killed supermodel Niki Taylor. Hey, I’m sorry to hear people are getting maimed and killed over these things, but we need to blame the driver for being distracted, not the object doing the distracting.

It’s very easy for us to blame objects instead of people, and it’s very easy to get legislators to pass restrictive laws with very little basis behind them aside from some polls and media momentum. It is not so easy to actually solve these problems, however, because rather than use common sense, we would much rather blame objects.

Just like the government can never really legislate morality, they also cannot legislate common sense, and that is what is needed.

And to every legislator out there who wants to stick their ugly mug in front of a camera and get all huffy about your anti-cell legislation, don’t give us this crap about all you’re doing is "asking" cell phone users to use a hands-free system. You’re agents of the government! The government never "asks" for anything. It DEMANDS. You’ve got some luddite politician in New York who wants to have all cell phone users hauled out of their cars and thrown in jail! That sure as hell is not asking! Government is FORCE. Legislation is FORCE. Moralists would not be so eager to use either if it were anything less than FORCE.

Restricting cell phones or banning their use outright will not cut down on accidents. All it will do is make a lot of noise, give the police greater power to repress the public and give people a false sense of security. Much like the anti-cell luddites in New York are doing, their counterparts in the other states will simply jump around and pat themselves on the backs and lie to themselves and claim they’ve made some sort of progress in making the roads safer. And when they realize that they didn’t do squat, they’ll blame the "hands free" systems, and then petition to have those banned as well.

All the while the REAL troublemakers are still out there on the highways, shaving their faces, rolling their curlers, sipping their coffee, and hauling out their makeup buckets.

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