Driving and cell phones just don’t mix

The hard thing for folks to accept about stereotypes is that they are devilish — not because they’re untrue, but because they’re more often than not true.

In the early days of my only marriage, 25 long years ago now, way before the divorce and my struggles at single-parenting, my ex-wife and I used to frequent Cincinnati’s dance club scene.

Although I was no Saturday Night Fever, I was a pretty good dancer. But the real attraction was my African-American wife, her hair in a modified Angela Davis “fro,” dancing like she belonged on Soul Train (a now-defunct black version of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand).

Whenever we were on the alternative side of town — a nice way of saying white back in those segregated nightclub nights on the cusp of Kentucky — folks formed a circle around Karen and I whenever we were out on the floor.

But when we went deeper into the city, to the black nightclubs, Karen always said, “Let’s just slow dance, honey.”

The reason for this was the same reason I could score 15 of my team’s 20 points in pickup basketball games in the suburb where I grew up, but when I moved downtown, although I kept playing hoops, I became the assist king.

In general, despite political correctness on the one hand and a two-way prejudice (if not racism) on the other, blacks were simply better at hoops and dancing than their white brothers and sisters.

Whether such superiority was genetic or simply environmental, I’ll leave to the scientists. But it was demonstrably true.

Another persistent stereotype is that small-town people are, on the good side, more loyal to their country and their families than urbanites. But those same good folks are not quite as up-to-date culturally as their big-city brethren.

Now up to a point, this might be true. But in our more and more culturally flatttened-by-television world, we are more alike than different, in our habits if not our politics and pleasures.

For example, take the cell phone. Please, please take the damned things.

What started as a simple tool to keep in your car or truck in case you broke down late at night, is now the bane of our lives. And our roads.

Recent studies out of Toronto (Canada’s biggest city) showed that drivers who talk on cell phones while behind the wheel cause 25 percent more accidents, serious and minor, than those drivers trying to concentrate (at least a little) on their driving instead of their talking.

The stereotype of the errant driver yammering away on his or her cell phone while plowing into the back of your car or truck is a stereotype because it is more true than not.

And a local lawmaker is trying once again to do something about it.

State Sen. Tracy Eide (D-Federal Way) has once again proposed legislation to require cell phone users to employ only hands-free cellphones while driving.

Now anyone with a lick of sense knows this doesn’t go far enough. Anyone driving and celling, hands-free or not, ought to be cited the first time and arrested the second.

We all know that while we’re talking on the phone, even at home, we aren’t really paying attention to whatever else we’re doing. That’s just how the human mind works.

If we’re talking to our significant other in a rosy period, we’re dreaming while our lips move. If it’s fightin’ time again in Love City, our attention is cast inward, searching for the correct phrase with which to belabor our honey when he or she stops yapping.

But I think I know why Sen. Eide is simply trying to get the cell-talking drivers hands, at least, on the wheel. It’s because she’s proposed a variant of this legislation for years and has been repeatedly shot down in Olympia.

That’s where you South Kitsappers come in. Call your legislators, on a cell if you’re not driving, and demand they vote for Eide’s bill, SB-5160.

Eide’s pet project has already made it out of the Senate Transportation Committee and should be out on the floor for a vote within two weeks or so.

Let’s force our legislators to side with the common people at least this once.

Why should we be at-risk so that our neighbors can catch up on gossip they could wait to catch up on once they’re home, plopped in front of their televisions watching gruesome reality television or some regurgitated sitcom that was stupid the first time around?

We’ve started trying, as a society, to get drunks out from behind the wheel. Let’s expand our efforts and  put those recalcitrant chatters on the shoulders, too.

Last year, more than 40,000 Americans were killed in traffic accidents. We know alcohol played a part in at least a quarter of these vehicular fatals. It’s my guess — it hasn’t been studied yet — that cell phones caused at least another 10 percent of my fellow Americans to perish in a crunch of metal.

If I’m right, that’s approximately 4,000 folks.

Call your senators and state reps and tell them you’re watching to see how they respond to Eide’s bill.

Make them, and cell phone drivers, accountable.

It’s your own life you might be saving.

Dennis Wilken is a former Port Orchard Independent reporter.

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