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Wednesday, Sep. 17, 2014

No texting at the wheel, but feel free to surf your brains out

Friday, July 15, 2011

(Photo)
The driving public never ceases to amaze me.

Personally I have witnessed people reading novels propped in front of them while driving ("The Lincoln Lawyer" perhaps), eating a Whopper at the wheel (remember, it takes two hands to handle one) and trying to steer with a greyhound (thankfully not a bus) in their lap.

But still the most outrageous thing I have ever seen was the young woman I encountered pulling out of Shadowlawn Avenue in Greencastle one morning.

Poised to turn her little car north onto U.S. 231 (Jackson Street), she clutched a large McDonald's cup in her left hand (I'm betting Diet Coke) with a lighted cigarette wedged between the index and middle fingers of the same hand. Simultaneously her right hand cradled her cell phone to her right ear, leaving her to press her forearms against the steering wheel to negotiate the turn.

Stunned, I thought to myself: Well, at least she's not texting.

True, but she was trying to maneuver a 3,500-pound automobile through traffic with her puny little forearms.

Dangerous? Undoubtedly. But there really is no law against it.

But as of July 1, there is a law in Indiana against texting while driving. It is a fine idea, especially since there is no national legislation addressing the issue. However, it's probably already a couple of years late.

Especially when you consider distracted drivers are the cause of 20 percent of accidents resulting in death or injury, and that texting while driving is now considered the biggest of distractions. Distracted driver accidents annually account for something like 5,800 people killed and 515,000 injured, statistics show.

The new Indiana law makes it a $500 fine to use a telecommunications device to type, transmit or read a text message or an email message while operating a motor vehicle (unless used in conjunction with a hands-free or voice-activated device).

Already that makes me wonder what happens if my wife texts me and I pick up the phone at a stoplight or stopsign?

If I pick it up and type "K" (not even OK), could that be a $500 mistake? I assume that is permissible, but you know the old "assume" axiom ...

Admittedly, I have trouble even pushing the right button to answer my phone while driving without getting distracted, so I'm about as likely to actually text and drive as I am to scale the Putnam County Courthouse in a Spider-Man leotard.

But still, the possibility of falling prey to a hefty fine worries me. Especially for what could be just a momentary indiscretion.

After all, I know a guy who was pulled over in Colorado after a passing state cop saw him pick his phone up off the console and look down to see who was calling. He didn't even answer it, and he got a pricey ticket.

Indiana officials already have addressed how difficult this law will be to enforce. Yet thou shall not text and drive is the law of the land. That new commandment ought to be etched in stone in every Indiana driveway.

Yet it's not enough. As written (an all-out ban on using telecommunications devices while driving wasn't in the cards, legislators reason), the law does not make it illegal to play Angry Birds or some other game or surf the Internet at will or create a playlist on your iPod.

While those cellular attractions are infinitely more distracting, doing them behind the wheel is nonetheless perfectly within Indiana law.

Granted, you would have to be goofier than Gilligan to try and play a video game on your cell phone while driving.

But then again, we Hoosiers can be awfully resourceful folks.

Playing Angry Birds with our elbows certainly isn't out of the question -- whether we're juggling a Big Gulp, a Big Mac and a big cigar or not.