I am just as distracted trying to tune in on a radio station as I would be texting, but once I tune into a station, I leave it on for minutes at a time.
I’m glad that texting while driving is now illegal. It will distract law officers from their enforcement duties and allow me to devote more of my driving time toward tuning my 170-channel satellite radio, reprogramming a new route in my GPS navigation system or trying to wedge an extra-large coffee cup in my medium-size cup holder.
This is not to belittle the seriousness of texting while driving. People are getting into accidents by repeated text messaging. The safety problem stems from the frequency of texting – as in, all the time – than the act itself. I am just as distracted trying to tune in on a radio station as I would be texting, but once I tune into a station, I leave it on for minutes at a time.
Sometimes, I will listen to an entire radio program, like NPR’s “Car Talk.” Now, there is a truly dangerous show. Not only do the Tappet Brothers encourage drivers to use their cell phones to call in with car repair problems, but the laughter and howling that the duo’s responses generate have caused many drivers to weave in and out of lanes or turn on the windshield wipers unintentionally.
Singing along with the radio is also dangerous. I saw a guy at a red light listening to an oldies station and doing what I think was a version of the Funky Chicken, circa 1970. It wasn’t pretty.
I have seen people reading newspapers while driving, eating apple pie, putting on mascara, yelling at children in the back seat, holding a St. Bernard whose head is out the driver’s window and, of course, texting.
I am reminded of a time when I was doing a ride-along with New York City police when they pulled over a car with a man driving. His girlfriend was sitting right next to him.
“Let me see your license and registration please,” the police officer said.
“Here it is,” the male driver said.
“No, not yours. I want the license of the driver sitting next to you who is also behind the wheel,” the officer said.
After much protest, and a hefty ticket for unsafe operation, the couple drove away. This time the man’s girlfriend was sitting next to the passenger door. You could put a refrigerator between the two, but you didn’t need to because the temperature on the passenger seat was already cold enough to store ice cream.
My last traffic stop posed problems. I had to pull out the GPS unit and tuck it under the seat, throw my half eaten donut to the floor and stash my cell phone under my right leg. I did all this while tethered to my seat by a seatbelt. My contortions were so energetic I looked like I was on PCP or had mistakenly touched the alternator output. But with the Click It or Ticket law, I couldn’t risk undoing my seat belt. At the time, I thought it was better to have the convulsions than get a “Book ‘em Danno.”
This time, I was let go with a verbal warning. I sat there not knowing whether I should pull out into traffic or let the police officer go first. I decided to wait. To pass the time, in true Pavlovian fashion, I punched in my home destination on my GPS. I was good to go. Finally, I lifted my head and eased into traffic.
Peter Costa is a senior editor with GateHouse Media New England and is the author of two books of humor. His latest, “Outrageous CostaLiving: Still Laughing Through Life,” is available at amazon.com