New York State recently had a new law go into effect. This law - the Distracted Driving Law - went into effect on July 12 and is an extension of the cell phone law that went into effect in late 2001, which prohibits drivers from using a cell phone while driving without using a hands-free device. The Distracted Driving Law takes it one step further. You are now not permitted to text, email, play games, or get on the internet while driving.
The fine isn't much - a $150 ticket for either talking or texting.You also get 3 points off your license.
Here's the thing.
WHO THE HELL IS DOING THIS.
Alright, yes, I get it. I've spoken on my cell while driving. I got my first cell way back in days of yore - 2001, I think - yeah, I know, did we even have CARS back then, weren't we still in HORSE AND BUGGIES, ha ha - and I remember thinking I was one cool kitten, driving around chatting with people. Really, it was just kind of douchey. I didn't need to be talking to those people. It wasn't something that couldn't have waited. It just seemed like a very, very adult thing to do. Talk on the phone? While driving? Yes! I am a very important businesswoman! I could very well have Grey Poupon in my satchel! I also lived in another state, and there were no cell phone laws there then. (Just checked. There still aren't. Except school bus drivers aren't supposed to be talking and driving. So that's good. Progress! You go, Grand Canyon State!)
I then went years and years without a real cell phone. Well, I had a cell phone - I think I've mentioned this - that didn't have internet access, and the "5" button didn't work unless you went all ragemonster on it and bashed it with all of your might into submission. Did I talk on it in my car? Well, I went almost seven years and made approximately 20 calls on the thing, all-told. I talked on it once in the car while I was parked, does that count? It was a phone I had because in this day and age, you need a cell phone. There aren't pay phones on every corner, and sometimes you're driving somewhere and your car breaks down and you're alone. It had no bells or whistles. I didn't think about it much. It didn't text. It didn't have games. It had one ringtone. It didn't have internet access.
I recently upgraded to a Droid. I seriously am quite sure that an angelic choir sang when I opened the box. The phone makes calls. But the phone texts. It has internet access. Apps! APPS! WHY DIDN'T YOU PEOPLE TELL ME ABOUT THE GLORY OF APPS? I was always one of those morally superior "why are people always GLUED to their PHONES" people but I haven't looked up from the damn thing since April. I'm getting a hunchback from always peering down at it. It is a love affair, what I have with this phone. A very, very serious thing.
Here's the thing, though. I don't talk on it much. Main reason being, I hate talking on the phone to anyone but a select few, and when I want to settle in and talk to those people, I want to be comfortable, in my bed, with a phone that doesn't heat up like hot lava and threaten to lose its charge before I'm done waxing poetic on the merits of Tide vs. Gain laundry detergent. (I'm being facetious. I've only had that conversation a few times. The answer is, they are both amazing and make your laundry smell like it's been hung on the line; buy whichever is cheaper that day. And use coupons. Who cares if people look at you like a crazy bag lady. You have extra money in your pocket; their pockets have nothing but lint. WHO'S LAUGHING NOW SNEERY MCJERKFACE.)
I do text, though. And Tweet. And everything else you can do on it. If I have it, I'm going to use it to its full advantage. At first, I was just using it for the games, but I haven't played a game on it since I discovered Twitter. Twitter entertains me a lot more thoroughly than Angry Birds. (OK, Angry Birds fans, I know, you're probably ready to lynch me. Here's the thing. Angry Birds crashed twice on me, when I was pretty far into it. The thought of re-doing all of those annoying little fiddly levels AGAIN, a third time, is crazy-making for me. I'll talk to my Twitter friends instead.)
A few years ago, people started murmuring that we needed a New York State no-texting-while-driving law. I remember when I first heard that, I laughed so hard I choked a little. "Yeah, because people are always texting while they're driving," I said, between spates of laughter. Everyone looked at me (as they do, often, it's like the default setting) like I had two heads. Apparently, EVERYONE texts while driving. I did an informal poll; all of my friends said they'd done it. One showed me how; she put the phone on the center horn part of her steering wheel and texted with her thumbs while steering with the remaining 8 fingers on the wheel itself.
This is not a good idea. Who thinks this is a good idea? Or are you all well aware this isn't a good idea, but just think, shit, who cares, I have to tell my BFF I'm almost there, mix my margarita extra salty tonight? Or tell my kids to put the TV dinners in the microwave? Why can't whatever you're saying wait?
I get talking while driving. And I don't condone it, but I think it's doable. Yes, it's better to have a Bluetooth. And it's illegal to do it without one, at least in New York State. But listen, half of the time, we only use one hand to drive, anyway, so having one hand on the wheel and the other on your cell - not that big of a stretch. Also, you're not all that distracted, talking and driving. If you've ever had a passenger, you know. It's doable. Is the optimal driving experience both hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, no talking, no distractions? Yes, sure. But the optimal life experience is a ton of money, a geeky-smart-hot boyfriend, and a house on the ocean, and I don't have that, either, so there you go.
The problem in New York State seems to be once we have a law on the books, we don't enforce it. I sat at a fairly large intersection early last week - the Latham SPUI - as the first one at the light, and decided to do a very serious scientific experiment (which will most likely be written up in many prestigious journals. I know. I just can't help how fancy I am.) I counted 21 cars going past me before it was my time to go. Out of those 21, 9 drivers were on cell phones (without a headset; I couldn't tell how many were using a headset. I don't have that kind of laser-perfect vision.) Two were looking at themselves in the mirror on the sunvisor. (While driving through a kind of confusing new intersection. You're gorgeous! Eyes on the road, now, please!) One was turned around talking to, or looking at, someone or something in the backseat. (I kind of feared for my life with that one.) One was eating a gigantic sloppy sandwich. One was picking his nose. So out of the 21 drivers, 14 were doing illegal, stupid, distracted, or uncouth and unsanitary things while driving. I'm no math wizard, but that's 66% of the drivers. And now I want to stay home forever and for always, or buy a bubble like Jake Gyllenhaal in Bubble Boy. (Shut up, it's so awful it's kind of awesome. No, ok, fine, it's just awful.)
But those 9 people should have gotten tickets, right? I mean, under the law that's been on the books for ten years? Why do you have a law if you don't enforce it? What's the point? Is it one of those laws that they only enforce when you've done something else heinous wrong, then they tack it on to the other things? If so, no one's going to stop texting while driving.
Also, you're gaming? While driving? Seriously? This is something people do? This is more unfathomable to me than texting. Phone screens are small! You need to pay close attention to those suckers! So you're doing that, the l-shaped Tetris brick is dropping, and BAM YOU JUST KILLED FIDO YOUR KIDS ARE WEEPING HOPE YOU'RE HAPPY WITH YOUR NEW HIGH SCORE, HERO. You can't wait? You can't wait until you get wherever you're going to play your triple-word-score on "Words with Friends" or roll a Yahtzee or drop one of the black bomb birds or whatever? I think your priorities might be a little backwards.
I have checked my phone for new texts while in it. I'm not going to say I haven't. I've even read them - while at red lights. Not while the car is moving. I have not responded to them. Nothing is so pressing it can't wait. And yes, while we're at it, I'm that asshole who insists you wear your seatbelt while you're in my car. Put up a stink about it, and you can walk your ass home. I'm driving, and the last thing I want is an accident where you get thrown into ME because you didn't have yours on. Yes, it's all about me. I could care less about you. Seatbelts are the law, and you're a dick if you don't wear it. Put the goddamn thing on and shut your mouth.
Here's my point (yes, yes, I have one, shut it, mouthy.) You are driving a car. A car is approximately 3,000 pounds. (OK, I'll get back to the point in a minute. Really? Google says that's true. Isn't an elephant 2,000 pounds? My little grey car weighs more than an elephant? I don't think that's possible. Really? I'd kind of rather have an elephant. They seem enjoyable. Also at least one of them can fly, so maybe I'd be lucky and get one of those. Score! Free plane AND a cool pet!) You should honestly be doing one thing while behind the wheel of that vehicle: driving it. You shouldn't be talking, texting, gaming, searching the 'net, putting on makeup, eating, playing with CDs, what have you. It's kind of a gigantic responsibility. You don't only have your own safety to look out for; you are also responsible for the safety of all of those other lunatics, at least (according to SCIENCE) 66% of which are very distracted.
It's a car. It's not a diner, beauty parlor, juke box, internet cafe, or phone booth. It's a 3,000 pound metal death box on wheels hurtling down the highway, you know? I don't know if we so much need a law for that. You know what law I'd like enacted and enforced? Common Sense. Found breaking it: I get to pummel you with a soggy pool noodle until I tire of the exercise and go check Twitter to see what my friends are up to. I'd vote for any politician who brought that to the floor.