Monday, August 13, 2001

Distracted drivers honk readers off

Readers reveal the worst things they see other drivers doing

By Mike Pulfer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There are plenty of other things out there to distract drivers, but losing their hand-held cell phones apparently would be a step in the right direction — toward safer roads.

        At least that was the leading opinion of Enquirer readers who responded to a recent Tempo call for comment about what distracts drivers.

        Reacting to a New York law that will ban hand-held phones in cars and trucks (and proposed legislation to do the same thing in Ohio), we asked about other behind-the-wheel distractions that might warrant consideration, and might eventually affect your driving and in-car lifestyle.

        Many of you, it appears, have been watching other drivers as you drive — which might be a distraction in itself — and steaming over what you see.

        Top distractions involved newspapers, radios, makeup and kids. Some thought they should be singled out by law; some thought we should all use more common sense. Some thought we were just asking for trouble by introducing the notion of more legal restriction.

        Cell-phone legislation is “just the latest example of a busy-body government stealing Americans' freedom,” says Todd Winston, of Maineville. “My wife was injured in an accident (by) a man attempting to eat (carryout food) while driving . . . Should we ban fast-food restaurants from selling food to go? Of course not.”

        “Passing laws is not nor will it ever be the solution for issues like this,” says Steve Armsey of Loveland. “Our legislators are not our baby sitters, and legislation is not always the answer.”

        “What a crock,” says Gary Wenck of Green Township. “These power-hungry legislators are out of control...If we let them continue, we will not be able to listen to the radio or talk in our own cars.”

        On the other hand, “No matter how hard one twists the Constitution, this ain't a free speech issue,” writes Bill Boyd of Eastgate, coordinator for Safe Communities of Clermont County, an organization devoted to improving teen-age driving statistics.

        “Some distractions are beyond the control of a driver,” he said. “Let's concentrate first on those that are readily and easily preventable. Hand-held cell phone calls by drivers of moving vehicles threaten us all.”

        More than 100 million Americans own cell phones, according to industry estimates, and 85 percent of them say they use them while they drive. About 100 municipalities have banned them from cars or restricted their use; about three dozen states are considering similar legislation.

        Most of the readers who responded to The Enquirer — some of them car phoners themselves — agreed with Mr. Boyd. But there were other concerns.

        “I would love to see restrictions on pickup truck drivers who let their dogs loose in the truck bed,” writes Audrey Malloy of Madeira.

        “The only thing worse than following a woman putting makeup on while headed to work is being followed by a woman putting her makeup on while headed to work,” writes Brian Hanna of Maineville.

        “The scariest driver I've ever seen was a woman in a van ... on the phone and disciplining her (three) children all at the same time,” says Karen Reginelli of Milford. “It takes just a little common sense to figure out what is distracting, and so many drivers seem to be lacking in this department.”

        Jane Walker of Goshen, remembers a woman “using an eyelash curler while driving at 55 miles an hour on a twisty road ... and giving a baby (in the back seat) a bottle.”

        Some drivers might be distracted when others wouldn't.

        Richard Helmes of Anderson Township says he is annoyed by “someone who brakes at every little thing on the road...They are so afraid to drive they should take the bus.”

        Geri Murphy of Williamsburg complains about people who throw burning cigarettes out the window ...“I have had several occasions where these cigarettes have either hit my car or landed on my bumper...I could smell smoke in my car.”

        Readers ratted out shaving motorists and motorists reorganizing their compact discs. There were gripes about people eating, drinking, rummaging in their glove compartments and disciplining their kids....while moving at 50 to 70 miles an hour.

        Several of the 40 writers mentioned loud music and over-active pets. One observer suggested police officers are frequently distracted while they operate computers, radios, sirens and flashing lights.

        Ken Kappel of Milford tells us about a dog that “bounces from window to window...Usually this beast only pauses long enough to provide the driver with an exhibition of lap dancing.”

        “I've seen women taking curlers out of their hair while going 70-plus miles per hour,” said Mr. Boyd. “I have even seen one brave, idiotic soul brushing his teeth.”

        “The only items or objects that should be in a driver's hands are those required to drive the vehicle,” writes Cecelia Kloecker of Blue Ash.

        “When I went for my driving training course, I was taught that you had to always be very alert ... and to have both hands on the wheel at all times,” says Judy McReynolds of Colerain Township. But her biggest peeve about other drivers is “loud music. If I can hear it from inside my house with the windows and doors closed, then that is way too loud ... How in the world can they hear a siren coming?”

        Although the mission of the reader solicitation was to find other distractions, there were plenty of comments about cell phones, too.

        When I first got my (cell) phone, I used it whenever,” said Ms. Murphy of Williamsburg. “But recently I have noticed it is not safe. Looking down to put the numbers in ... digging it out of my purse. There are too many other distractions to worry about with other drivers. I have decided to pull in a parking lot to make my calls...or try to make my calls at the office or home before I leave.”

        “If a driver is so important that he/she must yack on the phone, they can 1) pull to the side of the road, 2) call from a pay phone or 3) hire someone to chauffeur them around while they yack on the phone all day,” says Tommy Baldwin of Florence.

        “Cell phones on the road are just another example of people being unaware of their surroundings ...,” said Daniel Rabkin, a downtown resident and bicycle messenger for Relay Express. “Everywhere I look, drivers are jabbering away on their cell phones, not paying attention to what's going on around them.

        “Last week, on my daily 4 p.m. the Dalton Post Office, I was nearly killed by a (driver using a) cell phone.”

        Speaking of cell phones, Mr. Boyd said, “I hate them at the supermarket. I hate them in meetings. I fear them on the road.”

        “The problem is you cannot legislate common sense,” says Ms. Reginelli, of Milford.

        But, “Just because the state can't ban everything doesn't mean the state cannot ban something as dangerous as a cell phone while driving,” said Jeff Brown, of Crestview Hills.

        Or maybe the state could ban everything.

        Facetiously, Mr. Winston of Maineville says, “Let's outlaw smoking in a car... While we're at it, let's outlaw daydreaming while driving.

        “If living in a land where personal freedom is sacrificed for our own good is what you want, consider moving to China.”

        But maybe there are less drastic solutions.

        Says Mr. Helmes, a cell-phone user himself: “I suggest people be licensed to use cell phones in the same way they license drivers. Have us take a test while driving and see if we can drive as well with a phone and a conversation going on (as) without.”

        “I think Ohio lawmakers should launch a "Be smart — Pull over' campaign to encourage drivers to pull over before making a phone call,” says Valerie Atherton, of Delhi Township. “People are in too big a hurry these days to bother making a 30-second stop that could save their lives.”


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