Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 12

March 21-27, 2002

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What Goes Together Like Adam and Eve?
Cars and Phones

O! woe is me
To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!
— Shakespeare: Hamlet, 1600

Woes have plagued the human race, we’re frequently reminded, since Eve’s bite of that big apple in the Garden of Eden. But as time passes, our woes stack higher and higher. Snacking on an apple was only the beginning.

Pick a topic, practically any topic in these times, and mounting woes are evident. And the most woeful part of it is the unwillingness of succeeding generations to face up to those woes.

This pattern begins with that couple who plucked fruit at the Biblical Paradise so long ago — and continues with us today. There’s undeniable evidence of an unruptured succession of humankind’s unwillingness to face up to woes galore.

“O, woe is me,” we all murmur.

“Ignore it, it will go away.”

But, it doesn’t. We have not Adam and Eve to blame, but ourselves. Where’s that mirror?

At the risk of being accused of sounding simplistic or trying to stir up the pot of you know what, I admit dwelling on these thoughts as I ponder some of the unfaced woes so evident around us today. Let’s pick an example of one swirling around us at present.

Woes at the Wheel
Anyone knows that motor vehicles rank tops in causing accidental deaths in all the developed nations of our world. Anyone also knows that inattentiveness at the steering wheel or the handlebars is among the leading causes of accidents serious or minor.

Yet, in their finite wisdom, the legislators of our state (due to get healthy raises in their compensation) listen more to their most vocal constituents and to lobbies than they do to their own reason and consciences. Why irk the voters? Not when pay hikes are forthcoming. Let sleeping dogs lie. Ignore it, it will go away.

Anyone with enough common sense to fill a bird feeder appreciates that using something as simple as a telephone requires some attentiveness. Anyone also knows that driving the bigger and more swift motor vehicles of today on fast, crowded highways requires all available attentiveness.

So it doesn’t seem possible that those we elect, supposedly because of their wisdom, cannot add one and one to come up with the right answer.

No, that would displease their constituents, whose numbers are doomed to decline because of those who merrily drive our roads, their hand — or even hands — encumbered by dialing or waving in mid-air to make a point with the person at the other end of the line.

While all this is transpiring, their minds are distracted at the expense of attentiveness to their surroundings, which could include us as they pass by, or we pass them. Something’s wrong here.

Anyone who frequents our highways sees other motorists speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, one hand holding a cell phone, the other hopefully — though not always — grasping the steering wheel. I dare venture there are some drivers who use their mobile phones more than they do their brakes or directional signals.

Together from the Beginning
By coincidence, the same year saw the biggest breakthroughs in motor vehicles and telephones. On the first of August, 1877, the Bell Telephone Company was incorporated. The first known plans for an automobile were made public within weeks thereafter.

Alexander Graham Bell’s fledgling business in Boston had 778 phones in service and one full-time employee, Thomas Watson, when Rochester lawyer George B. Selden announced that he had drawn up plans for an automobile to be powered by an internal combustion engine.

It wasn’t until about a hundred years later that anyone got real serious and effective about combining Bell’s gab box and Selden’s horseless carriage. Look what’s developed in the past couple of decades. We now have more drivers paying more attention to their electronic conversations than to their driving. And our sage solons are reluctant to say enough is enough.

Guts and Gore
Like Del. John S. Arnick of Baltimore County, we had hoped this year’s tragic accident that killed five people on the Capital Beltway would have made his fellow lawmakers reconsider their brushing aside four previous efforts to ban the use of phones while actually driving. Such hopes were in vain.

In that February Beltway crash, a woman driver was reportedly yakking on the talk box when her SUV jumped the guardrail and landed on a minivan, killing her and four Canadians in the other vehicle. The National Highway Transportation Safety Board continues its investigation as to whether her use of the phone played a role in the accident.

One thing is for certain: One hand holding a phone didn’t enhance her chances of bringing her wayward SUV back onto track once it started straying. That’s a fact our legislators overlooked when Arnick’s bill fell three votes short in the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee.

Mark my words: Those with enough courage to fight for legislation to ban the use of phones while driving will one day win — though at this time it takes a lot of guts to keep pushing for the legislation, seeing that the industry estimates there are 123 million cell-phone users in the nation.

Disastrous Distractions
At times, it appears all 123 million of them are in use simultaneously on the highways. But enter a department store, stand in line at the Motor Vehicle Administration or try to relax and eat in a fancy restaurant and you get the same impression.

Just once, I’d like to hear from anyone a single cogent reason why a phone call can’t wait until one pulls off the highway, and parks. Why not let another passenger do the talking when the mobile contraption beeps?

That old malarkey that other distractions are allowed to continue unabated doesn’t hold water. Putting on makeup, sipping a soft drink, changing stations on the radio, lighting up a smoke, munching on a burger or even a bit of hanky-panky: Is it not plausible to also start culling the more potentially disastrous of these distractions? Look, on today’s highways, we’re talking about congestion and high speed limits, which usually are exceeded by cell-phone users as well as those who aren’t on the line.

We’re talking about literally split second decisions at a time when a driver’s attentiveness can be compromised by a fading signal, a weak battery, an argument with a spouse, a complex business deal or schedule or anything else that can take one’s mind momentarily from the business at hand — driving a motor vehicle safely.

The results can be our woes as well as theirs. Adam and Eve weren’t even driving when they dined on the apple — which doesn’t require the attentiveness of using a cell phone — and look what happened. Enough said.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly