Textually Active

23 01 2010

It took a while, but cell phones are now nearly as ubiquitous as billfolds and purses. The overwhelming majority of US adults now own one, and even 36% of children ages 10 and 11 own one. We are a nation of chatters. Texters. Web surfers (yes, 42% of US cell phones are now smartphones, capable of web surfing).

Which can only mean that social evils lurk around every corner. Inside every closet. And behind every steering wheel.

That explains why there is a small but growing number of states now banning or seriously regulating the use of hand-held devices while driving. The only problem, though, is that legislators waited an awfully long time before acting. Of course, our legal canon is nearly always in response to something, and seldom in anticipation of it. Still, we have been talking, texting and surfing for so long now that it is going to be difficult to just stop it entirely.

And that is another way of saying that I think these laws, while full of good intentions, simply will not work.

Now let me explain myself. I am as much afraid of a distracted vehicle-navigating moron as are you. Add in the fact that I ride about 10,000 miles a year, and you can see why I say a prayer every time I get on the bike. But the fact of the matter is, I am as guilty as the next guy for talking. Texting. Surfing. All while zipping along at 70mph.

In other words, the use of our beloved cell phones has become such a part of our very fabric that to rip it from our hands is just going to cause more problems.

I can see it now. TxDOT will rename the breakdown lane the cell phone lane. We will have drivers careening out of traffic so they can answer a call before it goes to voicemail. Pulling back into high-speed traffic after thumb-typing a perky little text. And plowing into other idling cars so the driver can pull up a map of where the nearest Johnny Carino’s is located.

Yeah yeah yeah. I know. Homo sapiens has survived for 200,000 years without cell phones, so why should today be any different? Does this mean that all cell-phone-using-drivers are unwitting candidates for the next edition of The Darwin Awards?. More importantly, am I about to deselect myself from the gene pool because of my bad habits (heck, I can even text from a moving bike while riding no-handed), or the bad habits of others who I am implicitly supporting here?

Good questions, and I hope the answer is no to the latter, because I’m going for a ride here in a few hours.

So what’s the answer, Sherlock?

I think it’s too late to convince us to turn off the phone. There would have to be draconian measures to get folks to quit (like jail time). One needs only consider the red light cameras in Amarillo that generate $75 for the city every time someone squeezes the yellow out of the signal (some 280,000 folks couldn’t have cared less in the first four months of the rollout). Who cares? I’m in a hurry, and the 21C is faster than whatever traffic engineers think is proper. If you’re on Elmhurst trying to enter Coulter, you had better look both ways…several times. The price of running the light is simply a minor financial inconvenience.

The answer is in better educating the driving public about the dangers of talking/texting/surfing, but this is really no different from educating about the dangers of driving too fast, drinking and driving, etc. In other words, technology has created yet another way for humans to hurt themselves and others, and it is up to us to educate one another.

So while I admit to texting while driving, I do not do it in traffic. I only do it on the open road when there are no vehicles within striking distance. And I only do it while driving solo. Thus, if anyone gets hurt, it will be me.

I also like to think that the fact I learned to drive in Chicago is worth a few points in this discussion, because let’s face it: Driving in the big city requires a sixth sense, the ability to see things in 360°, and the courteous precision to signal before cutting off someone. All at 85mph.

Look, for the most part we have learned how to handle F2F conversations in the car, as well as other distractions such as tuning the car stereo and dealing with whining kids. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule, and there are mishaps. But it didn’t take laws banning these things to cure the problem. No, it just took some brute force thinking by the very folks who are driving those 2-ton weapons.

You see, I think we will figure it out. I would be more in favor of a ban on eating-while-driving than I am using the darn phone. It’s a lot harder to eat a messy Subway sandwich while zipping down the E-Way than it is to dial a number or pull up Google Maps.

And that’s something to text home about.

Dr “Don’t Hit Me” Gerlich


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