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Hold the phone

By Jeff Terrill

Fort Wayne Reader

2012-04-05


Several days ago, I was driving while talking on my cell phone. I steered with my left hand and held the phone in my right. The caller asked me to confirm an appointment on my calendar. I pulled up my calendar on my phone and continued driving. After the call ended, I typed a brief description of the meeting on my phone. I wasnít pulled over. I didnít get into an accident. No big deal. Or was it?

Car crash fatalities in the U.S. are the lowest theyíve been in over 60 years. Targeted legislation has saved lives. Cars are safer. Air bags, seat belts and child restraint systems are working. Graduated driving laws now mean kids have matured a bit more before they get behind the wheel. So, whatís the problem? Automobile safety experts will tell you that drivers distracted by cell phones could reverse the safety trend.

Hold the phone.

Itís true that many states have already enacted laws to regulate a driverís use of a phone. Teenagers who are under the age of eighteen have already been banned from any cell phone use while driving. Last July, Indiana joined the list with a law that prohibits a driver from using a telecommunications device to type, send or read a text message or email. Itís an infraction to do so, not a crime. However, that prohibition does not apply to an Indiana driver who is using a hands-free or voice operated system. So, I guess, donít hold the phone.

Donít get me wrong. Texting and driving is very dangerous. Reading or sending an email while operating a car is equally hazardous. The other day when I typed an appointment into my phone while I was driving, I didnít violate that law. I wasnít sending a text message or an email. I was just entering a description onto my calendar. Even though doing so was not illegal, my eyes were focused on something other than the road ahead of me. Iím not aware of a law that expressly prohibits driving with a blindfold on. But I suppose if enough people started wearing one, thereíd be a law against it.

Are there problems with the statute? Yes. Thousands. Probably more. The law doesnít stop a driver from watching a YouTube video, reading an entire ebook or playing a game on his phone. An Indiana driver could read the morning paper, paint her nails and put on her make-up all without violating the distracted driving statute.

If I have a point, I guess itís that drivers with cell phones can be dangerous and some restrictions make sense. But where do you stop? Cell phones arenít the only things interfering with the eyes and attention of Indiana drivers. I bet a lot of accidents have occurred shortly after a driver leaves the fast food drive-through. If we are truly trying to legislate the elimination of distracted driving, cheeseburgers probably need to be the next to go. Remember the story about the woman who sued McDonaldís after spilling hot coffee in her lap? She was definitely a distracted driver.

Bad drivers can be distracting. So too can bad directions. I used to have a car that made a lot of mysterious sounds. Every time I turned I could hear something rolling from within the driverís side door. My driving was distracted until I sold that car. Whoever bought the car is probably distracted now. At times, my children can really be distracting from the back seat. But annoying their father isnít against the law.

Iíve got an idea for my next long car trip with my kids. All of their complaints or questions about our anticipated arrival time must be communicated to me via email or text. Iíll promise to review their concerns just as soon as the law allows.

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