Saturday, December 17, 2011

Back Story: Hang up and drive! (updated)

Ohio is quite the libertarian state when it comes to its traffic laws: motorcyclists are not required to wear helmets; until recently rear seat passengers over the age of 5 years did not have to wear seat-belts*; drivers can use cell phones with impunity, even to text. Not all libertarian ideas are bad. In general, I don't like the government messing with my life, either. So, night after night when I hear on the evening news about some guy involved in a motorcycle accident who got his brains smeared all over the road, because he wasn't wearing a helmet, I am liable to think one of two things: it was his choice; or at least no one else was hurt. My reaction might have been a bit different if it had been a child whose parents hadn't buckled him up in the back seat that got injured.

Much has been made of the impending Ohio legislation regarding texting-while-driving. The talking heads make it sound like cutting edge lawmaking. Meanwhile, many states have long forbidden the use of cell phones not only for texting, but even for talking while operating a vehicle, something I agree with wholeheartedly because I don't want to be killed by a distracted driver.

I was driving west on Hyde Road a couple weeks ago when a large pickup coming towards me pulled over into my lane for no apparent reason. We were the only cars on the road. There was no shoulder; no place to go to get out of harm's way. I slowed and started beeping my horn. He kept coming. Finally, about 50 - 100 yards ahead of me, the driver looked up from whatever he was doing, saw me, and pulled back into his own lane. As he passed me, he leaned on his horn as if to indicate that I was at fault in some way. Had he fallen asleep at the wheel? Had he been texting? I'll never know, but I'm sure he has no appreciation for how close the both of us came to dying that day.

Now the federal government is making noise about stepping in and prohibiting cell phone use in any fashion while driving, even hands free. Hallelujah! I'll bet the cell phone lobbyists are gearing up right now.

Something to confide here... I too have been guilty of talking on my cell phone while driving. As much as I hate the sight of someone making a left turn in traffic with a cigarette in one hand and a cell phone held to their ear with the other, I have succumbed to the temptation to answer my phone while driving. It is hard to resist. I have never initiated a call from the driver's seat. But, the thought that there might be an emergency, has almost always caused me to answer my phone when I have been driving alone. It never has been an emergency. It has always been more like, "Honey, can you pick up a quart of milk on your way home?" If someone else is in the car with me, I ask them to answer it for me. If I call someone and they mention that they are driving, I tell them I will call back later.

One great piece of advice I have heard is to turn your cell phone off before you get in the car. The problem is to remember to do it. I never do. You might try linking the action to hooking up your seat-belt. You do wear seat-belts don't you..?

Meanwhile, our lives will continue to be at risk while the lawmakers haggle. And even after laws are passed, there will be enforcement problems. There will always be that nitwit who thinks he or she just has to be in constant contact. I guarantee that nothing they are talking about is worth risking my life or the lives of my loved ones.



Bruce Cornett sent me the link to this video. It's a promotion for a school program, but contains lots of interesting statistics. Beware of the gory scenes...

* A reader corrected on the original version of this:

As of Oct. 7, 2009, Ohio’s children are required to use belt-positioning booster seats once they outgrow their child safety seats (usually at 4 years old and 40 pounds) until they are 8 years old, unless they are at least 4 feet, 9 inches (57 inches) tall.

Ohio’s revised child restraint law requires the following:

  • Children less than 4 years old or 40 pounds must use a child safety seat.
  • Children less than 8 years old, unless they are at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall must use a booster seat.
  • Children ages 8-15 must use a child safety seat or safety belt.

Fines will range from a minimum of $25 to a maximum of $75 per occurrence.

Apparently it only took until 2009 for Ohio to catch up with the rest of the country.


Mark Baker said...

I agree, I don't like the government telling me what to do. However, this is an issue that is endangering other peoples lives. Without a doubt in my mind, cell phone carriers will be lobbying against this bill. It will be interesting to see if this passes. If it does, how would anyone be charged with texting? Are the cops going to demand that you show them your phone?

Les Groby said...

You're wrong about children being required to wear seat belts. Under Ohio law, all children under 16 must use seat belts, even in the back seat; children under 8 must use booster seats (unless they are 4'9" or over); and children under 4 or under 40 pounds must be in safety seats.

Virgil Hervey said...


You are no doubt correct. If that's the case, this is a fairly recent (within the last 10 years) enactment.