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Article Archive >> Summer Tourism

Daze of My Life: Driven to distraction - still

Daze of My Life
Driven to distraction - still
By Kenneth B. Lourie
Contributing Writer

As much as I agree with, and commend the Maryland State Legislature for passing, a law penalizing drivers who talk on their cell phones while driving - those not using a hands-free device (heretofore known as "distracted drivers"), there is a part of me which, after semi-adhering to the law for not even one day, coincidentally its first day, October 1st, sees a hopefully-not-fatal flaw.
Although I am guilty, as yet to be charged, though, primarily or "secondarily" as the new law states meaning, drivers have to be cited for some other driving infraction (primary) before they can be given a warning first, then a ticket for the "secondary" infraction (talking on their hand-held cell phone), I am completely clear on the concept. Nevertheless, I am curious if perhaps this recently enforceable law might in fact be an inadvertent and convoluted cause for concern rather than a cause for legislative self-congratulation.
As logical and well-meaning as the attempt to curb such common and regularly occurring phone practices are (pervasive is not too harsh a characterization; everyone is talking on their cell phones while driving: young, old, citizens, immigrants; legal or otherwise, and everyone in between), I fear the ingenuity of many drivers accustomed to their communication cake and wanting still to be eating it - metaphorically speaking, while driving, will attempt to circumvent the new law.
Our 24/7 availability, combined with the technological improvements/enhancements with which many of us are familiar, has created a feedback loop, which seems to require instant access and communication - whenever and wherever. The Genie is out of the bottle, and unlike Barbara Eden, I don't see it returning - with or without folded arms and a nod. Putting toothpaste back in the tube seems like child's play compared to the effort required to change these new (comparatively speaking) habits of today's "cell phoning" drivers.
For those of us drivers/cell phone users too stubborn or stupid or disinclined to figure out how to integrate and/or connect a hands-free device into our talking-while-driving routine, unfortunately, not talking on the phone is not really an option anymore. Continuing to talk on the non hands-fee phone is, though admittedly unsafe - and distracting, and now against the law as well. However, this new requirement/law is still a process with which many of us are unfamiliar. And though it may be dangerous, it is a danger that is known. What danger isn't known is what will happen when police officers start unexpectedly blaring their sirens and pulling cars over for erratic driving (as a semi pretense), and then ticket the drivers "secondarily" for cell phone usage without a hands-free device.
And so, to avoid this inevitability, what did I find myself doing on that first day of the new law, something that I had never done before - and have no experience doing? Not only looking at the road on which I was driving; front, back, side view, but looking as well at the adjacent cross and parallel roads for police cars ready to pinch my "cell phoning" butt even though I was not committing any other driving infraction. Now that's distracting, all that looking around. (If ticketed, I don't see myself taking a day off from work either in order to go to court to dispute the officer's recollection of my alleged "erratic" driving which led to my "secondary" infraction.)
When I'm talking on the cell phone now, I'm not looking around. I'm looking and driving as I normally do but with my focus on two places: on what I'm seeing and what I'm hearing. If my cell phone rings now while I'm driving, to avoid being ticketed, I'll need to be looking around for what I can't see and can't hear (a police cruiser/siren) in addition to what I can see and can hear; in effect, doubling my distractions. Now that's scary.
And though I'm sure the intention of the law was not to make drivers and driving matters worse, I wonder if maybe it has. It's not the law that worries me; it's my reaction to it.

Kenneth B. Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.

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