Driving down Interstate 295 on my way to Portland, I was thinking about Sen. Roger Katz’s bill to ban the use of hand-held cellphones while driving. It had been in the news that morning, so I pondered it as I enjoyed my bagel with cream cheese and coffee.
Yes, I can eat and drive, but to tell you the truth, I am far more distracted when eating and drinking than when talking on my cell phone.
By the time I got to Gardiner, the Subaru was getting warm, so I unhooked my seat belt and took off my coat, driving with my knees for a while. I am really quite good at that. Then I pulled up behind a van with about a foot of snow on the top, and it was like driving in a blizzard until I got past him. I had to step it up to about 80 mph to accomplish that.
The closest I came to an accident that morning was when I got distracted trying to choose a CD to play. I had to reach around behind me, open the compartment and pull out some CDs. Then I had a hard time deciding between jazz and gospel music. When I looked up, I was almost completely off the road. I guess if I’d crashed, gospel would have been the better choice.
Driving into Augusta in the morning, I’ve seen people doing some amazing things while driving: a woman applying her makeup, a man shaving, several people fiddling with their hair and one guy reading the newspaper. I thought that’s why we have Maine Public Radio.
There’s an awful lot that distracts us while we drive. My wife is a terrible backseat driver. She extends her arms and legs and braces herself whenever she is sure I am about to crash. That really distracts me and ought to be illegal.
One time a guy passed me on Interstate 95 who appeared to be having sex with his girlfriend. That’s got to be illegal, right? Driving while having sex? Perhaps he got confused by the phrase “sex drive.”
These thoughts carried me all the way to Portland, where the streets were very slippery and clogged with snow, walkers and cars. A car careened out of a side street right in front of me, the driver laughing his head off in reaction to something his passenger had just told him. I jammed on the brakes and slid about 10 feet, narrowly missing him. He never even glanced my way.
A woman a block ahead of me parked her car right in the travel lane, because all the parking spots were filled with snow, and threw open her door just before I went by. I came very close to taking off her door.
It took me 15 minutes to go up Congress Street to my destination. And I was most assuredly not distracted — more like frightened to move forward.
After considering all of this, I’ve decided to do my civic duty and show up to testify at the public hearing on Katz’s bill. I will tell the committee some of what I just conveyed to you here, and remind them that we haven’t had a lot of luck banning certain practices on our roadways. Like speeding, for instance.
We spend tens of millions of dollars on police, hoping they can stop us from speeding. Yet we all still speed, despite signs, radar and a heavy police presence on our roads.
We all eat in our vehicles — hence those drive-up windows at our favorite eateries. We select and play music. We talk to each other, in person and by phone. We don’t brush the snow off our vehicles before we take to the road. We even drive with our knees while taking off our coats (OK, that would be me).
Should it all be illegal? Distracted driving is already illegal but difficult to prove. So I’ve got a suggestion. If you took driver’s education, you may remember being told to grip the steering wheel with both hands and keep your eyes on the road ahead.
Perhaps Maine could partner with car manufacturers to create a steering wheel that would work only when gripped firmly by two hands. And when that was occurring, a light in the back of the vehicle could light up. When the light was not lit, the police would know you are not gripping the wheel properly and give you a ticket.
Other than this, I doubt the Maine Legislature is going to be able to stop us from rolling down the highway while we talk, eat, select music, put on makeup, shave or read.