I Don’t Care If You Hang Up, But Drive

Tam rolls out the snark about another feel good useless law in “This is why I am a misanthrope“.  A quick snippet to encourage you to read the whole thing:

“…they plead for yet another law, a law against cell phones [while driving]…

I would further note that using a hands-free cell phone is no more distracting than talking to an actual passenger, so when the 2019 Buicks from Government Motors come from the factory with ignition interlocks connected to ball gags, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

First of all that’s just goddamn beautiful.  The whole point of the English language is to facilitate quotes like that.

Now for my Curmudgeonly two cents:

The problem with shitty drivers on cell phones is not cell phones.  The problem is the degree to which we facilitated, tolerated, encouraged, and financed shitty driving.  Laws against doing stupid things will not overcome this underlying principle.

Modern cars are impressive technology.  Unfortunately they’ve been harnessed to the least common denominator approach to driving.  Traction control, anti lock brakes, automatic transmissions, all wheel drive, SUV design specs for cars that never leave pavement, idiot lights on the dash…these are symptoms of a disease.  The disease is the idea that no human is too fucking incompetent, clueless, unreliable, or stupid to pilot a motor vehicle.  Eliminating the effort required in driving is a bad idea.  Clueless monkeys and skilled operators alike should have to work to drive a car.

Old cars had a special feature…archaic design.  It took work to keep the damn things running down the blacktop.  At first it took a manual choke just to get it started on a cold day.  For decades, if you could not shift, you could not drive.  Even in the seventies if you could not pump brakes you might discover the excitement of a spinout in snow.  In the eighties came the 4×4 even for those who only drive in an inch of snow quarterly or haven’t seen a dirt road except for quaint postcards.  By now the ability to brake, shift, feel the road, or even understand traction are dead.

There is circuitry to protect the batteries of people who can’t figure out how to turn the headlights off.  Think about that!  We are sharing the road with people who can’t operate a light switch.  Laws against cell phones won’t help you with people that can’t handle an on/off switch.

Now, a personal story.  Recently I was driving home from the woods with a a heavily loaded trailer.  (Free wood!)  I ventured on a busy street swarming with busy shoppers busily buying Christmas crap.

I needed coffee and there was just enough room to parallel park in front of a coffee shop.  So that’s what I did.  I used judgment to size up the space available.  I used archaic technology called turn signals to indicate my intention.  I used clever optical devices called mirrors to observe the vehicle and trailer and their relation to obstacles.  I used a long forgotten feature of humanity called skill and experience to gauge how the combined turning radii of trailer and truck would develop.  In short, I parallel parked a ton of firewood and my vehicle using the skills that any driver should already possess.

It took ten seconds.  It wasn’t exciting.  No laws were violated.  I didn’t need an array of gadgetry to help me.  I do not have back up proximity alarms, cameras, or whatever the hell else they bolt on cars these days.  Because crutches don’t ever truly overcome lack of skill or attention.

While I was getting my coffee I watched several close calls between pedestrians crossing a parking lot and drivers who were trying to navigate out of it.   They were having trouble; one cohort with walking and the other cohort with not hitting walkers.  This will not be solved with laws against cell phones.

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About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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21 Responses to I Don’t Care If You Hang Up, But Drive

  1. Don says:

    My wife says, “There’s two of you!”

  2. Wayne Conrad says:

    Yep. Got enough laws already. In the BoR, they should have put a period after “congress shall enact no law” and been done with it.

    There was one study in the North East somewhere (New York, I think) that found that talking the cell phone, even when hands free, is more distracting than talking to a person in the car. More research is needed to find out if this is true (good science is reproducible!), and if true, why. The researcher wonders if it is because one intuitively understands that a person in the car sees the same things you see and understands why you have suddenly stopped talking to put your attention where it is required; similarly, you know that the person on the other end of the phone will not understand why you have stopped talking to them. The social part of our brains is hard for some (most?) people to ignore.

    Which does not mean that I want government to protect me. It just means I want people to pay attention and act like they’re driving a machine capable of killing people.

  3. Reddog says:

    I completely agree with all of your points. Coming from a farm, I can drive just about anything with wheels (and some things without), regardless of what technology they posses. My lawnmower is a 1942 Farmall BN, crank start, no fancy electronics needed. Still runs like the day it came off the factory floor.

    Your post reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Robert Heinlein, ““A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.” How many of those can most people these days check off?

  4. Joe in PNG says:

    Contrast that to Madang, Papua New Guinea, where the roads are bad, the vehicles are pretty much all diesel vans and pickups with manual transmissions, no law enforcement of traffic laws, and there is, I think, only one road sign in this entire part of the country… nevermind, it got stolen last week.
    It’s pretty dangerous, but not quite as much as central Florida, where the blue haired retiree cruises sedately with the constant right blinker until the inevitable sudden left turn across traffic.

  5. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    Another underlying problem is that using existing laws against “Driving while distracted” (what they call it in my locality) would depend on Police exercising judgement …. and judging by the disturbing number of stories about wrong address drug raids, arrested photographers, and similar police assclownery, far too many cops simply haven’t got any.

  6. Steve says:

    Frank J makes a pretty good argument that if cars were just now invented, there’s no way the .gov would let us have them. http://nyp.st/smYUyU

  7. Cormac says:

    Mind if I forward this to my city and state reps?
    They would have to translate into acceptably cryptic politispeak, but you get the point across pretty damned thoroughly.

  8. Pingback: All linky, no thinky: Quotations of the Day Edition « Blunt Object

  9. Ruth says:

    I had a ’91 CIvic, manual everything including tranny, god I miss that car. I have to admit that I still can’t parallel park though.

    Someone in Australia just tried to duplicate the originial “cell phones cause accidents” studies, but this time took into account some extra data (including how often the person drove at all) and discovered that cell phones don’t actually make that much of a difference. I highly doubt it will change anything going on here in the US, but I was amused.

    • Also there’s a difference between locations. Talking on a cell phone while maneuvering on a city street in Manhattan is nothing like chatting while motoring down a flat deserted plain of corn in Nebraska.

      Not surprisingly laws against cell phones AND cell phone accidents all emanate from crowded cities. So does tuberculosis.

  10. Kevin Baker says:

    Yesterday I observed a driver (female, if it matters) sitting at a traffic light engaged in a phone conversation. So engaged that she was completely oblivious to the fact that the light had turned green, and the vehicles in the lane beside her were proceeding through the intersection. She sat there through the entire green cycle of the light, and was still oblivious as the light changed again, and I followed my left arrow light and went through the intersection in front of her.

    I wonder how many cycles she sat through?

    I don’t care if they talk either, but DRIVE, DAMMIT! And if you are incapable of doing both simultaneously, then you shouldn’t be behind the wheel of ANYTHING.

  11. Pingback: SayUncle » Lowest Common Denominator

  12. aczarnowski says:

    Well said!

    I can’t back a trailer for sh*t, but at least I recognize this is a failing on my part. When I live somewhere owning a trailer and backing it up are things people have room to do I will rectify the problem.

    • Nothing wrong with not knowing so long as you’re not careening around with a trailer. But when the time comes you’ll find they’re a vehicular cargo “force multiplier” par excellence.

      Incidentally there is a right way to configure a trailer, a wrong way, and a very wrong way. The latter is very common. A well balanced trailer that matches the size and alignment of the tow rig is a joy. A crooked piece of shit which isn’t towing level is a turd on wheels that can (and should) pull your ass into a ditch. A good portion of trailers on the road are ill matched to their tow rig and in poor mechanical shape.

  13. For what it’s worth, there is a distinction between talking to someone who isn’t there with you and someone who is. They have the same contextual cues as you and typically know when to pause talking because you’re making a turn or whatever. There’s also the way your brain spends effort visualizing the person you’re talking with as opposed to them merely being there.

    I really wish I could find the studies that back this up, but I have no idea where I read this. It’s been a while.

    Creating laws against specific things like “no talking on cell phones while driving” seems incredibly redundant to me. We already have distracted driving laws; they simply need enforcement. Talking on a cell phone while driving – especially a hand-held unit – is driving while distracted.

    • We also have the “you just smashed your most expensive mobile asset” and the “your skull has been crushed” incentives. (I have a theory involving the former and insurance in collusion to reward asshattery.) Someone who ignores both of those incentives won’t heed the “driving while distracted” penalty.

      But you are correct…a law against being “distracted” covers all causes. A law against causes is just stupid.

  14. Doctor Mingo says:

    Ever notice all of the planes that crash because the pilot is talking on the radio? Only Competent people get to fly aircraft.

  15. DougN says:

    I’m with the good Doctor here. Anyone who wants one can get a license in this country (USA), and even if you’re old and constantly running into things they won’t take it from you. There’s no real training required (even driver’s ed isn’t too impressive, when it’s taken). Enforcement of many traffic laws is nonexistent, so people don’t bother to learn them. Not only that, but people eat, read books, text, play with their GPS, yell at their kids, etc. while driving. And most already have the situational awareness of a tortoise.

    I’d say talking on a phone is one of the least of the problems out there.

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