Volume 15, Issue 5 ~ February 1 - February 7, 2007

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

Keep Your Hands — and Eyes — on the Wheel

For my sake: I get claustrophobia from ambulances.

We’re going to have police officers stopping women because they thought they saw them putting lipstick on.

—Sen. Nancy Jacobs of Harford County as quoted in The Sun questioning a distracted driving provision of a bill to ban use of hand-held phones while driving.

Applying lipstick while driving? Ye gods, senator, what are you thinking of? You better do your homework.

Methinks if anything is worse for our welfare on the highways and byways than trying to swat a bumble bee in the back seat or dialing a cell phone while driving, it’s a woman playing Picasso, mini-brush in her hands with her lips an easel.

Unless it’s chin up in the air to better watch in the rearview mirror the application of mascara, which I’ve witnessed more than once in the 66 years I’ve been licensed to be behind the wheel.

Especially if that woman’s vehicle (I dunno, maybe some men do it too) is headed in my direction from ahead, behind or either side of my vulnerable little Saturn station wagon.

Sen. Jacobs, you obviously didn’t think out the scenario; if you had, you would have realized this is a double whammy. Not only is one hand put to work holding the lipstick, so are both eyes. One vain enough to redden up while at the wheel has both the left and right eyes on the lips; what’s left for the road ahead?

Our visual systems don’t allow us to simultaneously use one eye to keep the lipstick from smudging while using the other to monitor traffic. No way.

Hold that Call

Such silliness as objecting to one applying lipstick while driving sprouts from opposition of a bill by Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. of Baltimore County to, at long last, outlaw the use of hands — not to mention eyes — on a cell phone when they’re supposed to be on the steering wheel.

This bill has been around before, only to share defeat with slots legislation. Both, incidentally, are financial boons to the lobbying business in Annapolis when the General Assembly sets up shop each winter, as well as to the senators and delegates who gorge on filet mignon and lobster while said lobbyists of the cellular business whisper sweet campaign promises in their ears.

I have a suggestion for those lobbyists who hobnob the few months during the social/political whirl of Annapolis and collect fees many times what you and I make in a year: Don’t waste your time and money trying to get the bill’s sponsor to change his mind. A year and a half ago, Sen. Stone’s five-day-old vehicle was totaled when a driver, cell phone in hand, went through a stop sign.

Such incidents are no longer rare, all in the name of instant communication.

Common Sense Calling

All this is probably a subject a majority of readers of this space would rather not hear about from an old fogy like this writer, who remembers well the day he covered a story about the first pay phones being installed on the streets of Springfield, Mass. Prior to 1950, A.G. Bell’s talking machines were only in homes, offices and a few drug stores, service stations and such. A nickel in the slot got a Number, please response. Today, cell phones have made pay phones relics.

Please, nay-sayers, hear me out — for your sake as well as mine. I know you are a safe and sane driver, you always have your jalopy under complete control; it’s the other guy who doesn’t and who makes all the mistakes. You’re a model driver, not a statistic.

So let’s direct this safety pitch to the other guy or gal: Take your cell phone in your hand and take a gander at what I guess you’d call the keyboard. See how small the numbers and icons are, how tiny the keys are? Okay, now picture this.

You’re heading home, be there in minutes, but want to be sure supper is hot and on the table. So you call. One hand holds the phone, the other has to hit those keys just right — and you can’t do that without looking. So momentarily both hands and both eyes are not where they should be.

Continuing our scenario, you’ve made the connection without sideswiping that other car, and your spouse asks you to stop and pick up a few things. You’d better jot them down. So now it’s a phone in one hand while the other is occupied trying to locate a bit of scrap paper and a pen.

You finally do, then with the paper held on one knee, pen in the other, tiny phone cradled between shoulder and ear, you try jotting, which of course requires participation by the eyeballs. Your car? It’s on semi-automatic pilot.

Then the phone slips from your shoulder. You gotta catch it, so you try breaking the fall with a knee and leg, dropping the pen to grab the phone while the other knee remains frozen to balance the paper. You’ve become a highway juggler. If not a statistic.

That’s how accidents happen: in split-second lapses by one party or both. I want neither to be me. I get claustrophobia from ambulances — not to mention those urns or big boxes one can end up in forever under such scenarios.

All of this in the name of convenience; it’s inconvenient to pull over to the side of the road to make or take a call. But few things are more inconvenient than filling out detailed insurance and MVA accident reports. And that’s if you’re lucky!

It’s a matter of common sense: Two hands on the wheel, two feet on the floor, two eyes on the road and two ears on traffic. Enough said.

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