TRAFFIC? DIDN’T NOTICE, I’M ON THE PHONE

Burlington County Times, June 11, 2001

The other day, I called my husband on my cell phone to let him know that I’d be able to pick up our younger son, who was at an after-school activity. I disconnected the call, checked to make sure that the call had ended, pushed another button to lock the keys, looked for a spot to put the phone so I could grab it quickly if it rang. Then I opened the window and reached over to increase the volume of the radio. I checked the radio dial and switched to AM to listen to the news. I was just in time to hear that Senator Jon Corzine (Dem. NJ) had proposed a bill that would deny Federal highway funds to any state that did not make it illegal to use a hand-held cell phone while driving.

I was, of course, driving at the time.

I whole-heartedly support the Senator’s bill. It makes a lot of sense. It will save lives. It will also make me a criminal.

There are so many things in this world that make sense, in theory, but that we ignore in actuality. Exercise three times a week. Eat five portions of fruits and vegetables daily. Floss. But ignoring most of these rules will make us flabby, bloated, and bad-breathed, but not a scofflaw. Ignoring this law will.

This seems to be Sen. Corzine’s week for driving safety. He has also proposed legislation requiring all states to enact laws regulating the kinds of safety restraints that are needed for children. Again, I applaud his efforts. Again, I know I won’t be complying.

It is recommended that children up to age 8 or 80 pounds be in a booster seat. My younger son, who will be 8 in the Fall, barely tips 50 pounds. But he hasn’t fit into a booster seat, especially while wearing a heavy winter parka, since he was 3. And, at the rate he’s going, he’ll be a teenager before he gets to 80 pounds. He’ll have lots of company, though, since I’m sure that most of his older brother’s girl friends (friends who are girls, he would emphasize), at age 13, are under 80 pounds, too.

The regulation, which, again, makes a lot of sense theoretically, also ignores the fact that not everyone owns an SUV or even a minivan. Try putting enough booster seats for a car pool into a regular size sedan. Can’t be done. It’s also impossible to car pool without someone having to sit in the front; the best I can do is make sure that the seat is as far back from the dash board (and its airbag) as possible. In fact, I have to do the same thing for myself — at only 5′ tall (and that’s only in the morning), I just barely make the height recommendation for front seats.

But back to my cell phone dilemma. Of course, it’s not that much of a dilemma. It’s not as if any of the calls I need to make are that crucial (see the example above). And the calls I receive aren’t either. (“Pick up some milk on the way home,” is the average message.) There’s no reason I can’t pull to the side of the road to make the calls, or check on our milk supply before I leave for the office in the morning. But I’ve gotten so used to using the cell phone that I do it without thinking.

There was recently a report on all the other kinds of activities we do while driving which put us (and fellow drivers) in jeopardy. Eating. Fiddling with the radio. Smoking. Putting on cosmetics. Checking our hair in the mirror. Yelling at our kids.

I haven’t eaten in the car since the time I squirted custard filling from a Boston creme donut all over the front of a wool jacket. The buttons on the radio are preset. I don’t smoke. I wear so little make up that I don’t have to check it in the car. My hair looks the same no matter what I do to it. I never yell at my kids.

Okay, I lied. I do yell at the kids. Have you heard the ad for the car with the extra seats in the back, touted as a great way to separate squabbling siblings? I need a car with an extra seat attached to the roof rack and with air holes in the trunk.

And there are a lot of other things I do as well while driving. I may not be putting on mascara while behind the wheel, but I do drive one-handed while trying to find an emery board with my other hand. And I’m sure there are times when I drive no-handed while trying to smooth down the offending nail.

There’s no lap top computer, VCR, fax machine, or modem in my car, but there is a Palm Pilot in my bag. And there are times when I not only can’t remember what I have to do that day, but am not even sure what day it is.

Then there’s the “oh, no, here’s the Bridge, where’s my wallet?” grope.

I think I know why we do all these things in the car, why we can’t just drive. It’s because of computers. Computers are based on the human brain (although they are a lot more linear and less intuitive than most human brains). Computers multitask. Therefore, our messy, non-linear, intuitive brains figure, we must multitask, too.

And here’s where the metaphor gets scary. Whenever my computer doesn’t want to multitask anymore, when it’s decided that surfing the web, alphabetizing an overloaded data base, printing a large document, and formatting labels simultaneously is just too much for its memory chips, it crashes. And that’s what I have to remember next time I’m in the car – if we multitask while driving, we crash.

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