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Driving & Phones: A Digital DWI?:

Which is potentially more dangerous: Driving after three vodka tonics, driving with a small dog sitting in your lap… or looking down at your phone to see if Biffy and Skeeter are going to show up at the party tonight? Take your time, since I personally see trouble with all of these.

We correctly make an assumption about driving after drinking, which is that it’s consistently and always a bad idea.

But, we let ourselves off the hook on the other two since our small dog Princess is really very well-behaved in the front seat of a car and, getting that info on Biffy and Skeeter?

Well, come on, man… that’s just plain essential. That’s urgent with a capital “UR!”

I’m not certain we can obtain the data we need about the depth of the problem of driving and texting/phone use, since there are complications getting those numbers that you don’t have with getting someone to blow a Breathalyzer.

Yet I invite anyone to walk with me and my dog on any given morning on 4th Street, so that we can count the number of drivers that roll through four-way stop intersections and nearly flatten us… because they are looking down into their life-giving, soul stealing, character-building, meaningful, sexy, wacky cat photo-providing, and (I now believe) addictive and intoxicating mobile phone.

If there are laws against driving while “intoxicated,” then is anyone ready to argue that those obsessed with their phones are not in fact “intoxicated” by them?

If constantly looking away from conversation with your “best friends” so that you can connect with your other “best” friends on your phone isn’t some form of at least mild addiction, what is?

I don’t expect the Santa Monica Police Department to back up my views here, but I will note that April is, in effect, SMPD crackdown on cell use while driving… month. In April, SMPD will focus on drivers who are talking or texting on mobile phones.

You were warned, people. They are looking specifically at what you do in your car with your phone all this month.

Why? Because every month SMPD focuses on different driving behaviors that are the primary causes for traffic collisions. You know, collisions. Where people get injured or killed.

We’re past the point of casual conversation about drivers more engaged in their phones than their driving.

Still, because no actual chemical substances are involved, we’re not yet having near enough conversation about whether this behavior constitutes a form of addiction.

Interesting that we would have piles of books and hours of TED talks about whether video games are bad for our children, and yet not engage in dialogue about whether adults have developed behaviors with their phones that might be equally troubling.

Because we like what we like. Recently, two states let their citizens vote on the matter of more deeply integrating marijuana into their lives.

Looking at such things as traffic deaths, distractions and drug problems in schools, absenteeism in the workplace, safety issues on construction sites, the knowledge that at least in some cases marijuana is used by those who later find something with a stronger kick… the proud citizens of two states voted to make marijuana more readily available. These votes involved a generation that still had memories of outlawing the sale of “airplane glue” used to make plastic models. But never mind all that; somebody wanted more and better pot and now they’re getting it.

I bring these things up not to suggest for a moment that criminalizing behavior always succeeds in modifying behavior. It does not. Prohibition between 1920 and 1933 was a failure and some might say a disaster when you throw in the uptick in crime that resulted.

The larger point is, we want these phones and we appear willing at the current moment to risk fines and endangering others in order to play with them.

But now you’re talking about discipline and restraint and one’s getting in touch with their weaknesses. If you watch even half an hour of television right now, you’ll see that none of the telecoms is selling you less phone service right now or encouraging less distraction with incoming data and texts.

Less preoccupation that could lead to a car accident; less obsessive behavior that leads to one morning where you run over me and my dog at a four-way stop corner or less humiliation from presenting yourself to the world as so feeble that you can’t stop checking your toys when you are operating a two ton vehicle.

Okay, fine. Let the SMPD put you touch with how you’re handling your, uh, fixation with your phone. They’re professionals; I’m just some dude writing about all of it.

in Opinion
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