Risky behavior

We’ll bet you thought we didn’t see you, scarfing down your breakfast burrito at that stoplight before the freeway onramp. You probably didn’t even notice us notice that Bluetooth earbud for your while-driving cell calls. And frankly, even though those earbuds are a little off-putting, a little reminiscent of the Borg, they are a great addition to the American highway. Safer and all that.

But what you plainly didn’t see was the reaction from our vehicle when you answered the text. Yes, the way you used your thumbs to manipulate your cell phone while you held the steering wheel with one hand and your burrito between your fingers in the other was oddly graceful and beautiful and frightening. You are the vision of multitasking, and if you sucked any harder, you’d choke on that McNastito.

But if you didn’t see us laughing at you like the crew on that you-want-it-when poster, how in the world can you possibly believe you are able to anticipate other drivers’ lapses in attention—when a bee flies in the window or the airhorn cover flies off that big rig a quarter mile down the road or the flagger is a half-foot into your lane?

It’s too late to get a bill passed at the legislature to allow regular old citizens who see such irresponsible behavior to be able to shoot the offending car with a paint-gun. And even though there have been studies that show texters are far more impaired than most drunk drivers, we aren’t counting on any draconian laws to prevent their innocent-endangering behavior. (Witness that 20 people were injured last week because a trolley driver was so caught up in his texts that he didn’t see the other trolley stopped on the tracks ahead.)

As is often the case with our editorials, we started at one place and went to another. The editorial was intended to announce construction season and to raise awareness about highway workers, like flaggers, but when you get right down to it, this is a far more relevant area for discussion. Yes, we’d like everyone to keep their cool, to watch for the other guy when there’s construction, to decrease their speed when there’re orange cones about. Pay attention, please, let’s get everyone home to their loved ones.

But, dammit, those delays, random jetsam, and orange cones are road hazards beyond anyone’s control. Acts of nature, if you will. Awareness must be raised about the danger of all this crap we choose to do behind the wheel—cell phones, MP3 players, makeup, books, Blackberries, food.

But really, what’s to be done? Shooting even with a paint-gun seems a little drastic, unless life or property is damaged. Caregivers can have Bluetooth keys made that block teens’ or seniors’ cell use or texting when the car is running.

What must be done rests with enforcement of laws already on the books to prevent distracted driving. And punishments that suit the crime must be put on the books. For example, people who are found guilty of hands-on cell use or texting should be forced to install devices that disable cell phone use.

The other part of that is that friends and family members must do their part to make everyone aware that society looks poorly on drivers who intentionally put others at risk. C’mon people, if you must have instant communication, find the tools that will allow you to protect other people’s lives.