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Driving laws address inattentional blindness – huh?
by Ann Ipock



Do you remember that old song, “Keep Your Mind On Your Driving, Keep Your Hands on the Wheel?” Well, if you’re not a baby boomer like me, you may not remember it, but those words were never truer.

USA Today, recently addressed a new concern about folks driving and doing a multitude of tasks. The article listed several culprits -- for instance, talking on the cell phone, eating a burger, and adjusting the radio knob. But the shocker was “reading the newspaper as they drive down I-95.”

How could anyone possibly do that? (I wonder if those drivers are reading USA Today? Hmm…)

I can think of other culprits; namely, what about those prissy women who apply mascara while driving? That is just not smart. A woman driving next to me appeared to be doing this very thing recently. But then I noticed a grimace come across her face.

Well, no wonder! Danged if she wasn’t plucking her eye brows. Come on! The driver sure does need a ticket, and I’d say a new brain to go along with it.

Anyway, a New Jersey Assemblyman named Doug Fisher proposed a ban last spring on this so-called “distracted driving.” Of course, radio deejays had a ball with the very idea, even calling it DWE, for “driving while eating,” and the “ham-sandwich law.”

However, Fisher only got part of his wish, banning cell phone use only, just like New York did in 2001. The new law is effective in New Jersey in July, and a similar law begins the same month in Washington, D.C.

It’s probably a good idea — at least about banning the cell phones. But my family is doomed if they pass the “ham-sandwich law.” Oh, don’t worry, I never eat while driving — unless you count Listerine breath strips. And Russell doesn’t eat while driving either — unless we are going out of town. Even then, he doesn’t eat — he just chews. That’s because I feed him. That’s right, it sounds sick; but I’ll pinch off a burger and plop it in his mouth, or sit back and throw a fry at him, as if he’s a hungry puppy.

I’m getting pretty good at sending food and he’s getting pretty good at receiving it. His hands stay on the steering wheel, so technically that is not eating. The biggest risk he ever faces is dripping mayonnaise down his $74 Tommy Hilfiger slacks and then paying the $6 dry cleaning fee.

You may wonder just how far the Legislature might go with this anti-distraction thing. The scary part is, I’m afraid Russell would be charged just because he is sitting beside me and, he says, I’m a distraction, talking a mile a minute.

It starts out like this, “Honey, did I tell you we got our property tax statement today, and it’s more than doubled? How come?” A minute passes by and I’ve read two more exit signs. Then I get bored and say, “When are we going on a cruise? It’s been over two years now and I’m reeeeady.”

Next, I’ll read the newspaper a little while (I’m allowed, since I’m not driving) and I’ll tell him some hard-to-believe story, like the one about the grandmother who gave birth to her own grandchild. About then he takes a deep breath and makes a face like his head might be starting to hurt, sometimes even gripping the hair on his head with both hands — oops! Better get those hands back on the steering wheel.

That’s when I tell Russell if he’s looking for peace and quiet, he really should stay home. But I quickly add, “And give me the charge card, so I can go to the new mall.”

This same article also said that 10 states — that’s a lot — last year considered legislation that would try to curb distracting driving habits. Most bills would allow police to ticket an inattentive driver, and this is the clincher: The police can decide what constitutes inattentive behavior.

Well, there you go: Half the Grand Strand drivers will be sitting on the side of the road, blue lights flashing behind them. I can hear it now: “Officer, I didn’t mean for my van to weave. It’s just that I got distracted by the giant map I was holding. You see — Ethel here and I — are from West Virginia, and we’re just trying to locate the Alabama Theatre. Is it in Alabama?”

Folks, we are in big trouble if inattentive drivers will get ticketed in South Carolina — because you must admit that’s pretty much everybody. I think it would be a lot easier just to give out REWARDS for those who ARE paying attention. Y’know?

Anyway, this is the deal: A study at the University of Utah is trying to prove that the cell phone users are a bigger threat than drunken drivers. This phenomenon is called “inattentional blindness.” I promise that is the term, but my brain can’t comprehend such gibberish. In this test, using a driving simulator, drivers were given vodka and orange juice (I wonder if it was during Happy Hour) until they exceeded a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 per cent, the legal limit for most states.

These folks had fewer accidents and quicker reaction times while they were legally drunk than when sober and talking on a cell phone.

Oh, that’s just great. Not!

When the final results are posted, I’m afraid every Tom, Dick and Harry will hit the bar at quitting time, get snookered on screwdrivers, forget to call their spouses/significant other(s) and then realize once they’re behind the wheel they can’t call home. ’Cause one thing’s for sure, they best not pick up that cell phone once they start driving.

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Ann Ipock is a biweekly humor columnist with the Georgetown Times, South Carolina’s oldest newspaper.

Whether we are hearing about Ann’s unspeakable accident—the time she got the mayor’s mustache caught up in her dental hygiene polisher, her view on prissy Southern women who actually resort to toothpicks after meals—(those thick fake nails just can’t possibly remove spinach from one’s front teeth), or her frustration with sticking to a budget—the normally-$100 supper club night she hosted which turned into a $2400 remodeling job (blame it on the new carpet), we can only think of one thing to say, “Tell us more!”

Life Is Short, But It’s Wide (In the Southern State of Reality) is Ann’s second book of humor columns. Published by Carolina Avenue Press, the book was released in September, 2003. Her first book was entitled What Was It I Was Saying? She is a regular contributor to Sasee Magazine, and she also writes for Pee Dee Magazine, Strand, and Gateway Publications. She is active in community theatre, where her favorite role to date was that of Truvy Jones in Steel Magnolias. Her day job consists of being a home-based, self-employed medical transcriptionist for twelve years.

Visit Ann’s WEB SITE to read more of her delightful columns. Readers may contact her there.

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