I usually don’t think copying California is necessarily a good thing, given that the large state on the West Coast tends to be a trend-setter for everything from entertainment content to medical marijuana.
But when it comes to a strict new law banning cell-phone use, I must say that California got it right.
As of last Sunday, drivers in the Golden State are prohibited from holding their cell phones while behind the wheel for ANY, repeat ANY reason. The law forbids that for purposes including texting, talking, checking maps — anything one can possibly do with those devices.
California has had cell-phone restrictions in place since 2006, but these were limited to talking and texting. The measure that went into effect on Jan. 1 smartly recognizes the greater capabilities smartphones now have, which include taking photographs, playing videos and other types of distracting activities.
Drivers in California may now use their cell phones only if the phones are mounted on their dashes and are set up for voice-activation or hands-free use.
In contrast to what’s happened in California, states in our part of the country so far have danced around the issue and adopted only a piecemeal approach, such as banning texting but not targeting all the other things people can do with cell phones.
To me, this is like a teacher prohibiting students from writing notes to each other in class, while continuing to allow talking among them.
I would love to see a comprehensive law passed in North Carolina similar to what California has done.
For one thing, I am tired of looking at all the idiots driving down the road with phones pressed against the sides of their goofy faces.
This practice seems less about communication and more about people wanting to be part of a fad they think somehow makes them look cool. (But when I see them, the word moron is what comes to mind instead of cool.)
I mean, have you ever been forced to listen to stray bits of cell-phone conversations, such as what you might hear while trapped in the checkout line at the supermarket:
“Well, I just left the produce section and thought about going to the vegetable aisle, but I decided to leave the store instead.”
Really riveting stuff there. When hearing such trivial garbage, I just wonder if the conversants have bothered to notify all the major news outlets about their earth-shattering disclosures.
More important than the herd mentality are the dangers posed by cell-phone use while behind the wheel. When you get right down to it, people have a hard enough time driving safely even without cell-phone distractions, given that they essentially are piloting 3,000-pound missiles along public thoroughfares.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that when you take your eyes off the road for only 5 seconds, the entire length of a football field will be covered at a speed of 55 mph.
Since it requires a distraction of only a few seconds to cause a terrible accident, a ban on holding cell phones while driving isn’t unreasonable.
Every time you see somebody doing something really stupid behind the wheel and wonder why, you usually soon get the answer by noticing the tell-tale device pressed against the side of his or her face.
I know of at least two fatal wrecks locally which have been linked to cell-phone use, and there’s probably been a lot more cases in which errant drivers simply covered up that fact — if they are lucky enough to have survived. (After all, the worst thing that can happen to a person who thinks she or he is smart and cool is to be exposed as a complete and utter imbecile.)
And if a cell-phone conversation is truly important, the driver has the option of slowing down from 80 mph long enough to pull into a parking lot or other safe place to talk. It’s not going to kill anybody to do that, in contrast to the alternative of holding the phone to talk while operating a motor vehicle.
Officials in North Carolina need to follow California’s example and quit catering to the communications industry while also enabling consumers’ continuing irresponsible use of cell-phones while driving
When you get right down to it, this is just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and our legislative bodies need to start recognizing that and finally take appropriate action.
The only thing that gets people’s attention more than some fad which makes them look cool is to be hit hard in the pocketbooks with fines for violations.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.