An Indelible Driving Lesson

Egyptian Museum, Torino, Italy - World-class c...

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Several years ago my wife and I decided to take a mini-vacation by car to Fort Worth to see a museum exhibit of Egyptian artifacts, and it was fun. We stayed overnight, saw the exhibit and set off for home in the late afternoon. As I recall, it was Sunday, and thinking traffic would be light I decided to return going first East and then North through Dallas. Traffic was initially heavy, and then after passing the exits for downtown it thinned out. In fact, it thinned out so much that we felt we were almost alone on the interstate. We were doing 65 or 70 and I was just pointing out something interesting on the skyline to Mollie. My eyes hadn’t been off the road more than one second, I swear, and when I glanced back ahead I saw three lanes of traffic. Stopped. Dead, just like we were about to be.

Our car then was a Honda Accord sedan, and it had ABS. I stood on the brakes as the pedal chattered. Something in the back of my mind said, “so that’s what ABS feels like.” It seemed to happen in slow motion – I knew we were going to die. But while breaking I also steered left into the median. We probably only traveled a hundred feet or so on the grass before coming to a stop about even with the last cars in the backup. I’m here to tell you, ABS works!

Since that episode I have become a better driver. I never use my cell phone while driving, not even on speaker nor on our bluetooth, hands-off sound system, which our present car has, and I consciously avoid distractions. Ever since that day there’s a new little voice in my psyche that tells me about it. So I found it interesting when another aspect of distracted driving came up last week.

Is there anybody over 10 and still on the outside a nursing home who doesn’t have a cell phone? Can’t be many, so I’m guessing that all readers must have seen the AP article about the NTSB’s latest recommendation about them.  In case you didn’t know, it explained this about the NTSB:

The National Transportation Safety Board declared Tuesday that texting, emailing or chatting while driving is just too dangerous to be allowed anywhere in the United States. It urged all states to impose total bans except for emergencies.
The NTSB, an independent agency that investigates accidents and makes safety recommendations, doesn’t have the power to impose regulations or make grants. But its suggestions carry significant weight with lawmakers and regulators.

Completely banning cell phones from cars would be strong medicine.

English: Interstate 80 traffic is brought to a...

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Some people’s reaction, I’m sure, is “What’s the difference between talking on a cell phone and just talking to your passengers? But a moment’s reflection ought to give you the answer to that. The passenger can (usually) see where you are and take the traffic situation into account, pacing the conversation accordingly. (Unless you’re both looking at the sights, of course.) The person on the other end of the phone hasn’t a clue about that semi stopped ahead of you.

A total ban on drivers using cell phones isn’t going to happen.  After all, this is a nation ruled under the Tyranny of the Majority, so I’ll bet you 10,000 rasputnicks on that. Anyone? Didn’t think so. The darn things are ubiquitous of course, and have become vital to many business people including traveling salespersons, realtors, inspectors, delivery people, plumbers. Never mind, it would be easier to list those who don’t rely on them. Oops. Can’t think of any.

So, what to do? My favorite newspaper, USA Today has the best editorial take on it in my opinion. Here’s what they recommend:

Alternatives to a nationwide ban include:
•Prohibiting cellphone use for new drivers and bus drivers (except in emergencies). This makes sense because of the inexperience of young drivers and the responsibilities of transit workers.
•Creating campaigns — like those that have worked to reduce drunken driving and get millions to routinely buckle up — to make it less socially acceptable to talk and text while driving.
•Vigorously enforcing laws already on the books against reckless and inattentive driving, whatever the cause.

And to that list I have one other recommendation for those who aren’t already convinced. Take a trip to Ft. Worth. And be sure to go through downtown Dallas. If you live, you’ll be convinced too.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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15 Responses to An Indelible Driving Lesson

  1. John Erickson says:

    Not sure if I should admit this or not, but I’m over 10, not in a home (yet), and don’t have a cell phone. Then again, with the drugs I take, you don’t WANT me driving! 😉
    My first (and oddly, current) car was/is a 1987 Cavalier Z-24. V-6 engine, fat tires, lotsa horsepower, and no ABS. Perfect car to teach “pump and pray”! The Subaru we had didn’t have ABS, but it was a almost a perfect 50/50 weight split, and all-wheel drive. Our current wagon has ABS, and it does make a difference, especially on slippery rural hills around where we now live.
    I am STILL trying to figure out how to graft ABS onto that Cavalier. The later ones (post-95, if I recall) did have ABS. Anybody want to help with a Frankenstein project? 😀
    p.s. First car I ever drove was a 1970 Chevy full-size wagon, with a 350 V-8, power steering, and non-power-assisted brakes – all four drums! YEE-HAW! Trying to get THAT thing to stop was like trying to stop a carrier in its’ own length!


  2. Jennifer Lockett says:

    Fort Worth? Was it the Hatshetsput exhibit? Next time you make a visit to the Fort Worth museums, let me know! The current Caravaggio exhibit is awesome!


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      I’m not sure of the name of the exhibit we saw, Jen – might have been. We would love to see the Caravaggio exhibit, but I’m not sure we are up to the trip, and the evolving road challenge, anymore. But if we do, I’ll let you know. M.C.’s paintings are breath-taking. I am no art expert but to me they extend a perception of human nature more effectively than any photograph could ever do, especially with explanatory notes on historical context. I must go back to my Genius post and add him!

      A few years ago we did drive to Houston to see the Lucy exhibit and found it outstanding. This winter we are thinking to visit the new Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville. That’s an easy drive for us.


  3. Rawhead says:

    Over 10, no cell phone. No Facebook account either. While a lot of people find having a portable phone gives them more freedom, I feel just the opposite about it. When I’m out and about I want to be AWAY from technology as much as possible, I certainly don’t want to be carrying any around with me. Well, except for my knife, that’s technology I can handle.


  4. ansonburlingame says:

    To me it becomes yet another “Nanny State” issue, to a degree.

    I learned to ride a bike at about age 6 and until I was a senior in HS that was my transportation, everywhere. School, little league games, football games, dances, you name it. I rode my bike all over town.

    But I NEVER wore a bike helmet. They were unheard of back then. Until I was in HS I don’t believe cars even had seat belts either, at least that I can recall.

    Now if I ride a bike without a helmet or ride in a car without fastening my seat belt I am a violator of the LAW and suffer the impact of the law if I am caught doing so.

    There are laws already on the books that restrict “irratic driving”. In the extreme it is called “reckless driving”. But someone “weaving down the road” can also be stopped and ticketed as well. Bottom line if a cop sees an irratic driver he can and should stop and ticket (or arrest) them. Why I ask is that no enough LAW to protect the public?

    I would add that I NEVER text while driving out of personal choice. And I don’t put on lipstick while doing so either and chastize my wife when she does so. Some things are simply common sense and I don’t need another LAW to dictate such and you shouldn’t either.

    But if you are the sort of person without such common sense, you may no longer text while driving but I also suspect you will find another way to distract yourself while “cruising down the road in a lethal weapon” when the weapon is improperly steered simply because you do not have the “sense” to do so.

    On the other hand, I have also relied on ABS to help out. Technology does improve safety.



    • Jennifer Lockett says:

      Texting while driving, like drinking and driving, I’m okay with there being laws against – after all, you are endangering *others*. While cops may pull over someone who’s driving erratically, the problem with texting is that it’s periodic and you can lose control in an instant. Hell, last week I got rear-ended while waiting at a stop sign by a woman who was texting. Fortunately, no one was hurt and there was no damage to the car. However, I wouldn’t call her driving erratic, unit she took her foot off the break and his the gas.

      However, seat belts and helmets. I feel those restrictions should end at 18. Children don’t have the capacity to make decisions about their own health and wellbeing (I believed I was 10 feet tall and bullet proof well through my teens.) In TX, we have no mandatory helmet laws and when I see someone cruising helmet free, I send them a silent ‘thank you’ for increasing the odds that my buddy on dialysis will be a kidney before complete renal failure and progressive toxicity. Want to be an idiot as an adult and endanger yourself? Be my guest.

      Also, Anson, I’ve noticed that ‘common sense’ is not that common… One day, I drove past a woman who was *reading* while driving – a novel. Seriously.

      Oh, and in CA (maybe not TX) it is illegal to put on make-up in the car. It’s called farding (yes with a d) while driving.


    • Jennifer Lockett says:

      Also, found an article (slightly flawed in that it has no control group with to to compare) that demonstrates that child deaths related to cling have decreased 61% since mandatory laws were introduced twelve years ago in Ontario
      Keep in mind, a control group would be to find a group of parents okay with their kids, sans helmet, to ride bicycles in violation of a popular law to prove they’d be fine.


      • Jennifer Lockett says:

        “Related to cling”? Autocorrect is just getting weird. That should have began “significantly declined”

        The new Lion has adopted autocorrect and has led to some interesting experiences…


        • Jim Wheeler says:

          I have resisted installing Lion because it’s not compatible with my Quicken finance software. I have to forego using iCloud, but I don’t really need it. You’ve given me another reason to be glad I haven’t upgraded. 🙂


  5. ansonburlingame says:

    Oh, I also like air bags. they are unobtrusive but there if I ever need them.



    • John Erickson says:

      My biggest peeve vis-a-vis car technology? Free air bags, but ABS as a cost option. Don’t let me avoid the accident, but make sure I survive the following collision – with a few extra grand of repairs in a minor accident because my dashboard blew up! Gimme ABS for FREE, and keep the airbags, and I’ll stay out of trouble in the first place.
      Oh, and just for your humour. The first car I drove regularly was a 1873 Vega. It came with an add-on shoulder belt, that spent its’ life under a clip up on the headliner, right to the day my dad traded it in back in 1989. My dad didn’t know any better, and thus never told me.
      Sometimes a LITTLE bit of granny state does help to educate a bit! 🙂


  6. PiedType says:

    As I read it, the NTSB recommendation was to ban all “electronic devices.” Overly broad, that. Rip all the standard-equipment radios out of cars? Ban GPS devices? Ban the thumb drives and iPods that play through the radio? As nearly as I could tell, they want cars driven by solo drivers (no passengers) and equipped only to emit warning signals, beeps, alarms, etc. Ridiculous.

    Meantime, I’m about as safe as I can get, unless they prohibit people my age from driving altogether. I think my new little Subaru has every safety device known to man, including some I don’t even fully understand — stability control and something else. I feel safer, somehow, and yet in all my life I’ve never been in a situation where any of these devices or systems would have made a difference. Bottom line, there really is so substitute for being a responsible driver. And nobody has figured out how to legislate that.


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Here’s my personal opinion on the device question, Susan. The airlines have enough problems with drunks, screaming babies, undisciplined children, selfish passengers, Alec Baldwin, and angst from crowding. Therefore they have little incentive to add incessant cell-phone babble and electronic game noises to the mix, and therefore little incentive to spend millions of dollars on testing to rule out the tiny probability that 200 gadgets in the back might, just might, be a problem. QED. 😆 😆


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