Wheels II

Picking up from last week: Gadgets and getting off and on.

Cell Phones. Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls: I am less than deliriously pleased to report that, after six years of futzing, our California Legislature on Thursday the Gubernator a bill – Senate Bill 1613 (by The Right Honourable Joltin’ Joe Simitian, Democrat of Palo Alto, for those of you interested in actual facts – which gives rise to the question: What are are you here?) that does the following, according to our Legislative Counsel:

This bill would make it an infraction, operative July 1, 2008, to drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone, unless that telephone is designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking operation, and is used in that manner while driving. This offense would be punishable by a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.

Question #1: Are there any cell phones out there that are not “designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking operation?” My cell phone is almost two years old – Flintstone vintage. No camera; no video; no MP3; no saw-sharpening; no-key making; no pants-pressing. Nonetheless, it has both a Driving Mode and a Voice Command Mode, either of which can be activated by pushing a single button.

Question #2: Is there any more annoying form of walking or standing cell phone behavior than the Dick Tracy “Two-Way Radio” mode, wherein Our Hero strides about shouting at the handset two feet away? Thus, the bystander is treated not only to the higher volume and more piercing tone of voice but also the tinny, garbled other half of the conversation – and often that cartoonish, eye-poking interstitial sound that Nextel invented. (Okay, slightly off the point, but remember – what is inconvenient for you is therapy for me.) Where was I? Oh, yeah. Net effect: Immediately after your Yukon has made an enameled alloy hash of that Beetle you ignored the “Stop” sign to meet, push one of those buttons before the cops arrive. Voilá! Not Guilty! That other driver must be delirious – I mean, lookit the blood all over her!

Epilogue: Everyone from auto insurers to Verizon Wireless supported the final version of SB 1613; the only recorded opponent: Sprint Nextel. Verily: listen closely and you can hear Arnold’s well-endowed pollsters reaching out to Voters Most Likely to Drive “Hands-free.”

All that aside: the studies are mounting, Young Skywalker, and the news ain’t good for you and your fellow Bluetooth boobs: using cell phones while driving increases the risks of accident and injury. Period. There is nothing – I repeat, nothing – that you can say to me that justifies the use of an appliance that requires connected cognitive activity that disrupts the primary connected activity in which you’re already engaged: Driving, which requires keeping a careening mass of highly flammable metal from coming into abrupt and mortal contact with other machines and humans.

Categorical excuse-killers. Please read the following out loud; in a room; alone; watching yourself in a mirror with your free hand cupped to your ear (mostly so you understand how much you annoy everyone else in the car, and especially out and about when you’re not driving):

  • If you were that important, someone else would be driving.
  • If you’re under 21, not gainfully employed, and living at home, nothing in your life is important enough to endanger another human being. You’re already demonstrating that you’re expendable; please don’t take us with you.
  • No, it’s not the same as eating; drinking; adjusting the stereo; or talking to a passenger – although you should perform these tasks sparingly. None of these distract you from the job at hand as much as trying to communicate with a human being you can’t see. (Judging by most of the cell conversations I’m forced to overhear elsewhere, I use the term “communicate” in the limited sense of forming words loudly.) Multi-tasking is vastly over-rated, anyway. Try this experiment, if you don’t believe me:
  1. Locate your significant other at least one room away from the kitchen and give him/her a reading script with several complex math problems.
  2. Go to the kitchen and place a ripe, meaty tomato on the cutting board.
  3. Begin slicing, then call out to your SO and ask him/her to shout out the problems, demanding a solution to each within a specified period. (If you’re married, prompting a conversation to begin from at least one room away likely isn’t required.)
  4. Begin solving but keep slicing.

Henceforth, you will known affectionately either as “Einstein” or “Stumpy,” but not both.

  • It is the same as applying makeup; computing; faxing; PDAing; reading; and using earphones or an iPod. Cut that shit out, too! It’s dangerous!
  • The only advantage “hands-free” devices provide is that you could use the turn signal if you weren’t already somewhere else – or you could shield your face from the air bag when you hit the bridge abutment you didn’t see because –
  1. You are of Mediterranean extraction and need both hands to talk;
  2. You’re Irish and are using your free hand to manage a beverage that shouldn’t be open in a vehicle, anyway; or
  3. You were trying to write down a number you don’t really need or take an order that will be of no benefit to the surviving spouse and minor children.
  • If you have to have the phone on, it goes off, and you believe it’s urgent, pull over. If you can’t pull over, don’t answer it. If you don’t have voice mail you’re too stupid to own a cell phone in the first place.

Merging. I haven’t decided yet in what proportions common courtesy, common sense, and respect for engineering principles are best applied to increase orderly traffic flow and reduce road rage while driving – but I’m confident all three are required. If you’re short on the third, please try to make it up with the other two. Common sense will cover a shortage of etiquette; on the other hand, if you’re courtly but can’t come in out of the rain, memorizing that part of the DMV exam handbook might do the trick. For those afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder or on a cell phone, here are the Cliff Notes:

In general. When lanes vanish, blending is required – and so is charity. Those who laid the thoroughfare before you had simple alternation in mind, I believe. Ain’t hard, folks. Remember “ones and twos” when dividing into kickball teams at grammar school recess? Turn signal use, maintaining reasonable ‘tween-bumper space, and using hand signals to invite and RSVP, respectively, are also helpful. A question for you who are pushing large, loud noncommercial vehicles. (I’m prepared to give a pass to anyone properly trained who drives for a living. Beyond all the normal occupational stresses, unlike us, they have knuckleheads in their offices all day and all night long. And there’s the food. Plus: ever seen a “Truck Stop Annie.”) What exactly do you win by not letting anyone in ahead of you? I know it’s not earlier arrival, so there must be some explanation for such pointlessly aggressive behavior. Higher sperm count? Perceptibly more attractive to the opposite sex? What? Operators are standing by…

Getting on. If you live in a populous area that features many limited-access freeways, you already know that during high-traffic periods you must wait at a metered signal before gaining access to the merge lane. This is to create intervals between those ahead of and behind you, making it easier for all of you to get on. Take a deep breath and read carefully: You can also do this without the assistance of a mechanical device. Once you’re on the roadway flank, accelerate to traffic speed, signal, and find an opening; do NOT charge down to the end of the merge lane and slow dramatically or (I have seen this more than once) stop. To our friends who insist on driving in the rightmost lane and speeding up to keep anyone from merging in front of them: Were you deprived of nurturing during your formative years? All right, then; what have I ever done to you?

Getting off. First, to those coming aboard: Because these humans are moving at speed, looking to exit in time, they have the right of way. Act accordingly. That being said, to those debarking: Pay attention and plan your escape; in these days of free on-line mapping and Global Positioning Systems, you have no excuse – particularly if you’ve traced the route more than once. This may come as a shock, but you have no right to blow by others trying to leave responsibly and barrel all the way down to the mouth of the off-ramp to force your way in, especially when traffic there is slow or stopped. I’m willing to bet that you are the motorists most responsible for firearms currently under seats and in glove compartments.

Staying on. Simple. Take reasonable stopping distance; add left-to-right/right-to-left behavior described above; stir; apply liberally, add anticipation, signaling, and smother with courtesy. I know, I know. It’s infuriating when some muscle-head bolts ahead and invades your interval for the seeming sole purpose of going slower than you are already going. Instead of imagining the martial-arts move required to remove his/her gall bladder with dull fingernails, find your center. God of Western Paradise: I am grateful my fellow creature is where I can look upon and admire him – from a comfortable distance.

Next Week: More obnoxious, behind-the-wheel antics.

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