Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hands-Free or Not At All

The Maryland Senate is soon voting on a bill that could ban the use of handheld phones and texting devices by drivers in our state. I am all for it. If you shrug off the significance of such a law or think it's too intrusive, I'll invite you over to see my x-rays or come to a session of physical therapy with me. I'm lucky, and I know it. But luck only goes so far.

Why anyone needs to text behind the wheel of a car is beyond me. It's insane. And with Bluetooth technology everywhere (or wired headsets a dime a dozen), there is NO excuse for driving with one hand up to your ear, clutching your Razr.

I guarantee - get hit in an accident like I did, and you'll get passionate, too.

The status of Senate Bill 2 is pretty shaky right now, and that's a real shame. I've never sent mail to one of my elected representatives before, but today, I've sent my state senator an e-mail:

Dear Senator Frosh:

My name is Merujo, and I live in Bethesda. Last autumn, while I was waiting in my car at a red light, I was struck from behind by a distracted driver using her handheld cell phone. I was in a small Ford Escort, and she was driving a large Toyota SUV. And, because she was driving distracted, chatting on her phone, she plowed her vehicle into mine, full speed. She could not even pull into a vacant lane to avoid me because she didn't have both hands on the wheel to turn out of my way.

I was shot into the intersection. My car was totaled, and I ended up with spinal fractures throughout my back. In fact, one doctor told me it was a miracle I was not paralyzed.

It's been six months since the accident. I still have to use a cane to walk, I have a pronounced limp, and there are days when I can barely function because of the pain. All because someone selfishly and foolishly had her phone up to ear, looking out her side window, chatting away. She's fine, by the way. She got a dent in her bumper and a flat tire. I'm still in physical therapy. And that not only depresses me, it makes me incredibly angry.

I travel the 270 corridor frequently, and I am astounded to see what I assume are successful, well-educated people doing amazingly dangerous things like driving with their forearms on their steering wheels, so they can text with both hands. It's clear - and terrifying - that they have no care for the people around them as they weave erratically through high-speed traffic. We have seen horrible accidents happen throughout the United States because people were driving distracted, with hands too occupied in text or conversation. I keep waiting for one to happen here in Montgomery County. I sincerely hope we don't have to have a tragedy happen here before people really pay attention.

Even hands-free laws won't keep people from being completely distracted or selfish, but it will help keep their hands on the wheel. Hopefully, the possibility of fines may make some people pay attention. It's not enough, honestly, but it's a start.

I'm lucky. I'm alive and I can walk. But, frankly, I don't want to have to press my luck again.

Senator, I sincerely hope you are supporting Senate Bill 2, and that Maryland roads will soon be a hands-free zone.


Bethesda, Maryland


Scholiast said...

good letter! hope it works out ... It's been illegal here for years already, people still do it, though. Huge fines, but apparently people have too much money at their hands... *sigh*

hope you'll be fully recovered soon!

Heather Meadows said...

Yes, definitely a good letter! I'm sure it will have an impact on the senator, or the assistant who actually reads the senator's mail.

(When I was an adolescent I wrote a letter to First Lady Barbara Bush asking if we could be pen pals. I was crushed by the form letter I received in response. Hehe.)

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

I confess: I'm guilty of the sin of cell phone use without a hands-free device. There are no excuses. And, I'm a hypocrite, because I rail at people who are talking and driving at the same time. No doubt they, like me, think they are perfectly capable of performing both tasks at the same time.

I'm going to dig out my Motorola Bluetooth handsfree wireless device today and start using it.

paulnojustpaul said...

Well put as always, M! It's been illegal here for a few years now. Some people still do it, but at least the constabulary can bust their asses if/when they see them.

Cyn said...

Yay Merujo!

I've been using an earpiece for years -- not just when driving, but all the time. My hands like being free (whatever that means...) In NJ we have legislation, although it's just recently that it's had any teeth.

Even with earpiece, there's the dialing to contend with (my phone has a voice-dial but still you have to push a couple buttons to get the process started)and I hate having to look away from the road even for a split second. So I'm not often on the phone while driving. Besides I like to reserve my drive time for silently pondering the origins of the universe (or singing at the top of my lungs.)

Anonymous said...

I must admit that in the past I have texted while driving. Actually I guess technically I checked while driving. I stopped sometime ago after realizing how moronic it is - I think getting a blackberry and having access to your email all the time isn't such a good thing.

I have used a headset for years though. I've seen so many people driving one handed at high speeds and it is so scary.

Forgive me - I swear I've stopped the texting.

Merujo said...

Good comments, all. I have a feeling this bill will not survive the vote this week. One state senator, Rona Kramer, made an asinine comment at the state house last week, which was picked up by the Baltimore Sun: "If we're going to ban anything, let's ban picking your nose while driving." She's more concerned about her 19-year-old being profiled because she looks young than she is about safety. I wrote to her too. I started my e-mail with that quote from the Sun and then said, "Wow. I'm guessing, Senator Kramer, that you or a loved one has never been struck and injured by someone selfishly chatting away on their phone or playing with their Blackberry behind the wheel of a car..." Then I included the text of the message I sent to Senator Frosh, who does support the bill.

I am one of the few people in my office who is not tethered to a Crackberry, and I think I'm lucky. When I'm not on the clock, no one can find me, unless I want them to find me. ;)