Shut Up and Drive

STAR Tannery, Virginia – I was blithely driving down the interstate one day when, looking ahead as I topped a hill, I noticed a line of cars stretching a half mile long in the right hand lane behind an exceptionally slow-moving vehicle. They were stuck there, the poor saps, because those of us who had looked ahead had already formed a steady stream in the left lane to pass all of them.

I could pretty much guess what was holding up traffic. Fifteen years ago I would have guessed either a car in trouble trying to inch its way to the next exit or tiny little old lady attempting to look through her steering wheel and over her car hood. These days I know it’s someone on a cell phone, the use of which causes drivers to glide past (read, “cut off”) everyone going at least 15 mph over the limit or to languish cozily at 15 mph under the limit, leaning on the door oblivious to the world around them.

In Virginia, until July 1 adults can pretty much do anything while driving, including all the various options open for cell phone use including using the handheld set and texting. I assume juggling and balancing your cell phone while driving are also still permissible, though the legislation never mentions these activities specifically. I use hyperbole in this situation because those activities are just stupid and selfish as the other more common forms of driver inattention.

Beginning July 1 Virginians will no longer be permitted to text message while driving. Attempts to put other limits on cell phone use either died in committee or were tabled indefinitely by a snickering General Assembly. Okay, I made up that snickering part, but I’m sure a proposal to ban use of all electronic devices during driving met with considerable opposition from a legislative body that was probably at the moment of the vote twittering and texting everything from the controversial to the insipid (Disclaimer: no one is charging that any of the twitters? tweets? twixts? were submitted while the sender was driving).

Anyway, what it comes down to is that Virginia drivers can continue to glide through stop signs, ignore oncoming traffic at a yield sign, cut people off and cause major interstate collisions for the privilege of ordering a pizza to be delivered to them as they step out of their car at home.

Virginians 18 and under are the only drivers prohibited from using their cell phones in any way while driving. Because, you know, 19-year-olds are so much more responsible than 18-year-olds.

Our small-town version of rush hour is rather comical, what with all the honking and waving and apologizing that goes on as legions of SUVs operated by drivers with cell phones immediately glued to their ears bump bumpers, screech to a stop at red lights and pull in front of each other, never missing a beat in their conversation. It’s a friendly sort of chaos that would be tragic were it not for the 25 mph limit and the fact that the farm-use vehicles also clogging the roads can’t get over 15 mph.

I know what you’re going to say: “I know exactly what you mean, Jeanne. There are some drivers who just can’t handle the distractions of holding a cell phone to their ear and driving with one hand. But I’m experienced. I don’t pull those kinds of boners you described.”

Um. . . yeah, you do. You’re just too busy talking to notice.

Every single person I’ve ever heard make that claim – no exceptions – has, while talking on the cell phone, made a major driving error that could have caused an accident were it not for the defensive driving of the other driver – with me on the passenger side (the “death seat”). This is usually accompanied by a nervous laugh and an elaborate explanation involving amazing feats of complicated physics: “I saw the yield sign and I really did look, but the sun hit the sign in such a way that the road over my shoulder looked completely devoid of traffic, even back further where the sun probably hit their windshield…”

No. You were explaining to your friend about getting your dog to the groomers and your son to soccer practice without mixing the two up. You almost got me killed over logistics.

As for me, I just drive defensively and hope for the best

Oh – and the driver of the vehicle holding up interstate traffic? I got a sick feeling as I drove past him – it was my husband.

Copyright (c) 2007, SteelWill, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Spot On is a trademark of SteelWill, Inc.

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