Sunday, September 16, 2007

Hang Up And Drive

The California Governator has just signed a law prohibiting 16 and 17 year olds from using cell phones, PDAs, laptops (they're using LAPTOPS??) and pagers while driving, effective July 1, 2008. They won't be able to text message their friends from behind the wheel any more. Tooooo bad. I only have two questions.

1. Why are we waiting until July 1? (OK, this is probably just the way the legal system works) and,

2. Why only 16 and 17 year olds??

Once these kids turn 18, assuming they don't kill themselves and everyone else in the car before then, they will be able to text message their friends while driving, and it'll be perfectly legal. Also, most of the idiots I pass, driving one-handed at 70 MPH with the other hand gluing a cellphone to their ear, are well over the age of 18. I've seen more than one study indicating that driving while talking on the phone is as dangerous as driving drunk - maybe even more so. Just Google "cell phone driving" and look at the evidence for yourself. This is stupid, people.

OK, I'll back off and do the disclaimers: yes, yes, most teenagers don't drive and text. But in this case "most" amounts to two out of three, according to a recent study done by AAA and Seventeen magazine. That means one out of three teenagers is driving and texting, or at least driving and yakking. That's a very high percentage. If they kill themselves while doing this, that may be just Darwinian selection at work; but the odds are quite high that, through inattention, they will kill someone else too, who has done nothing more dangerous than try to drive to work. (Actually, driving to work is dangerous; much more so than the great Terrorist Threat; but that's another post...)

This article lists all the countries, and the U.S. states, that have passed some kind of ban on using cell phones while driving - in some cases just requiring hands-free equipment, but in some cases (New Delhi, India) banning even that. You can potentially go to jail for driving and chatting in Bahrain. There is a reason all these countries have banned driving and phoning: it's dangerous. It kills people. Let's keep your attention on the road, folks.

Oh, yeah, and what about eating while driving, and putting on makeup while driving?? (For that matter, what about the guy I saw wailing down the Number One lane, doing at least 80, with a 3 ring binder spread out on his steering wheel??) Well, they aren't illegal, and not even I am suggesting that they should be (OK, maybe putting on eye makeup should be); but they're just as dangerous as talking on the cell phone. Let's face it, folks: when you're driving a car, your entire attention should be on the road. This is not the time to demonstrate how well you can multi-task. As the old song goes, "Keep your mind on your drivin' and your hands on the wheel..."


  1. The only justification (rational one) for it is that when you first learn to drive, you really CAN'T multitask - it is a new thing, you need to concentrate, you can't do it on "auto" like you can later. So when you first learn to drive, even changing the radio station can make you go off of the road because you aren't paying attention to what you are doing.

    I learned this first-hand when my wife, who had never driven before we were married (she is from another country and never had a car there nor need for one here before that) did exactly that - she went off the road into a ditch, with me in the car, because she tried to change the radio station. With fairly steady driving, it takes about six months to master it to the point where you can do it on "auto" and thus do other things like mess with the radio, or a cell phone, or whatever, without automatically crashing.

    Not all kids have their own cars, though, or get enough driving time in on other's cars at age 16. Giving them two full years to master driving can probably eliminate a lot of those sorts of basic accidents.

    To answer your question - why not do this for everyone, regardless of age (or at the least a six month wait after getting a license) - that's politics - people LIKE using their cell phones while driving, and peoples' schedules are so hectic that for some, the car is the only place they have the time/opportunity to eat, particularly with a long commute. So to ban that for everyone will piss off a LOT of voters.

  2. Can we persuade the automakers to leave the built-in DVD screens out of their products, too?

  3. When I learned to drive--at age 18--the prevailing hiway speed limits were routinely set at 75, and the typical American family car could do 100 with no trouble at all. There were seatbelts, but no one used them. And yet, I never felt "at risk" when driving on the freeways.

    Sometime during the 1980's, the habitual driving behavior on American roads changed. I don't know what caused it. Maybe the cars were smaller, lighter, more efficient. Maybe the car makers encouraged everyone to think of their vehicle as a race car. Maybe it was a society become so anxious and frustrated and aggressive that it began to express those emotions while driving. Whatever it was, hiway behavior began to get very dangerous. Today, on our local freeways around the Bay Area, you literally take your life in your hands every time you venture onto them. There are many more trucks on the road than there ever were before. There are many European and Japanese sport-sedans which will jump from 0 to 60 in nothing flat, and from there to 120 in the blink of an eye. People in the fast lane habitually go 70-90, and--what's worst of all--will tailgait each other at that speed: Imagine a line of 8-12 cars doing 78mph, each one no more than 1 1/2 car lengths behind the other, at 6:15 AM when it's still dark enough for headlights. Then there are the air-heads who weave and dodge at 20 miles over the prevailing, or simply zag five lanes at once over to the exit.

    These were not common maneuvers or behaviors in 1965 when I first became a legal driver. They're the main cause of so many of the crack-ups and flip-overs and side-swipes that tangle commutes and turn our elegant conduits into parking lots.

    What's more, the hiway patrol pays absolutely no attention. They still stubbornly cruise along in the slow lane stopping minority drivers or wolfing lambs doing 6 miles over the posted limit. I think the police are corrupt, for the most part. I sympathize with their plight, but I seldom see them doing the right thing. Maybe they're trying to do an impossible job with no help and no tools. But it really seems as if they're just "following the money."

  4. Yeah, I've been out there too. In fact, you'll see some interesting comments about those driving habits if you go to and read the article about the multi-truck smashup that closed the San Mateo Bridge this morning.

    Actually, as gas prices got higher, I decided to see how much I could save on mileage if I slowed down; and I discovered that freeway driving at exactly 65 MPH averaged 1-1.5 MPG lower than at 70-75. So I set the cruise control to 65 and settled down in the number 2 or number 3 lane. I almost never saw a car closer than about 15 car lengths ahead of me. The bizarre thing was being continually passed on both sides; it was like sitting on a rock and watching the river go by. I never obstructed traffic, there was always room to pass me. I still do it, in fact. It doesn't make a significant difference in my arrival time, either.

  5. C.Stone1:35 AM

    Why is talking on a cell phone while driving more dangerous than talking to the person in the seat next to you? Or is it the mechanics of making or answering the call that's distracting and dangerous? Is there anything more distracting than trying to drive with kids crying or fighting in the back seat?? I thought for years that driving was an intrinsically unsafe activity, for which the human nervous system was not designed. Maybe I was right.