A few evenings ago, while I was driving west on East Center Street a car pulled out in front of me from a side street near the Boys and Girls Club. There were no cars behind me, so there was no need for the driver to risk an accident by trying to beat a long line of cars.
I slowed suddenly to avoid hitting the car, and resisted the urge to slam on the horn. "Probably some kid, who's just going to do something even more stupid, like hit the brakes, if I push the horn," I thought. But a few blocks later, at the intersection of Civic Center Drive and Center, I was forced to hit the horn. The woman driver sat at the light for a full five seconds after it turned green. Might have been 10 or 30 seconds had I not tapped the horn.
Of course, when the driver — who by now I could tell was yapping away on a cell phone — heard the horn she accelerated quickly and then jerked to a stop at the stop sign a block away. It was the most dangerous display of driving I'd seen in, well, in about five days, since the last time I encountered someone driving and carrying on a conversation on a cell phone at the same time.
It's time folks. The Legislature needs to outlaw cell phone use while driving. I will admit that some people — I'm not one of them, and neither is the woman I encountered the other day — can multi-task just fine. They can carry on a cell phone conversation, adjust the station on the radio and smoke a cigarette while driving, all at the same time, without endangering the lives of everyone around them.
But they're in the minority. Our streets would be infinitely more safe if we outlawed cell phone use while driving.
I keep hearing three primary arguments against this:
1. Police won't or don't have time to enforce such a menial law, so it won't do any good.
2. It's a violation of our civil liberties to force us to do something against our will in the privacy of our own vehicles.
3. You can't legislate against stupidity. If people are going to do something dangerous in their cars, they're going to do it, no matter what laws are passed. What next, are you going to pass a law against fiddling with the car radio or stereo, or drinking coffee while driving?
First, making something against the law DOES change behavior, regardless of enforcement. Our now 92 percent compliance with a mandatory seat belt law some said would never be obeyed is evidence of that. The vast majority of Minnesotans are law abiding citizens, even if they disagree with some of the laws they're forced to abide by.
On point Number Two: When I was in high school and working in the dark room of our hometown paper, I helped process film (remember film?) from the scene of an accident in which two people were killed when the car they were in was broadsided. One of the victims was a high school classmate of mine. The other victim was her 3-year-old nephew. The child would have lived had he been in a car seat (they weren't required by law back then) when the accident happened. Looking at those photos affected me profoundly. Just when does a proposed law stop being viewed as a prospective nuisance and start being viewed as something that will save lives.
And finally, it's true that you can't legislate against stupidity, but by passing a law against something, you as legislators send a strong message to the public that you mean business. Just as some people can't chew gum and walk at the same time, some people can't talk on a cell phone and make a safe turn at the same time. I'm OK with clumsy gum chewers. I'm not OK with clumsy, distracted drivers who could kill or injure the innocent people around them.