Up Front: September 2006

Shut up and drive

I am getting old. How I know is not the pink of my pate peeking through thinning thatch nor the persistent pain that predicts plastic and metal soon will replace gristle and bone in both my knees. No, how I can tell is by catching my reflection in the rearview mirror and not seeing a cell phone clasped to my ear like a wax-sucking remora.

Driving to and from work, both my hands grip the wheel, often as not the knuckles pearly white, while my mouth remains shut except to mutter curses, which, I confess, covers most of my commute. I know, I know: This kind of rage will kill me. But they — the cell-outs — likely will get me first, one of their two-ton mobile phone booths, its pilot engrossed in gabbing, weaving across the lane to smash into my truck. What is it these people talk about that is so fascinating? And why can’t it wait until they get out of the car? Or if it’s so pressing, why not pull over?

Cell phones are a valuable business tool, but most of these folks aren’t working. Even if they are, how safe is sharing the road with somebody whose mind is focused on making money? The other day, I pulled up to a stoplight between a woman in an SUV gesticulating with the hand not holding her phone and a guy in a company car, pen in his free paw poised over a notebook, both blabbing away. This had the makings of a sandwich, and since I didn’t relish the role of playing potted meat, I hit the gas at the first gleam of green. Predictably, neither of them noticed the light had changed until somebody behind them started honking.

I recall reading somewhere that research has shown talking on a cell phone impairs the ability to drive to the same degree as drinking enough alcohol to be charged with driving while impaired. I doubt that. Maybe it’s comparable with driving while lighting a crack pipe with a butane torch, but a boozer who would blow .08 is probably sober enough to at least try to drive so he doesn’t attract the attention of police. Some of these people driving under the influence of a cell phone are fearless. Or maybe it’s just that they’re oblivious, dangerous as somebody tooling down the road with a open bottle of vodka clutched between the thighs, especially here in Charlotte, where many of the streets resemble what a traffic engineer might design if he finished off a fifth before sitting down to work.

There’s MADD — Mothers Against Drunk Drivers — and I think we need DAMN — Drivers Against Mobile-Phoning Nitwits. The legislature made a good start this session, prying cell phones out of the hands of drivers until they reach 18. Let’s raise that to 80, which would be too soon for some of them.