- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

You can spot them a mile away, can’t you? The gabby ones traveling at a snail’s pace, waving their hands wildly, or weaving slightly across the traffic lanes. They are the motorists you invariably discover are talking on the phone, sometimes even screaming into their mini-microphones.

Some shameless people are so attached to their wireless lifelines, it’s as if they’ve grown a new appendage, spending every waking, walking and working moment yakking about absolute drivel.

You know what I’m talking about, and you know who I mean.

We’ve all been bombarded by the intrusive cell-phone invasion.

I can’t understand why these incessant yakkers want everybody to hear their personal business as they reveal intimate details about their relationships or engage in loud, uncouth arguments while standing in a crowded checkout line at the grocery store.

As for the manic text messagers, they are destined to get carpal tunnel syndrome and are no doubt headed for hefty orthopedic bills.

This technological tool-and-toy age makes you wonder whether human beings in the 21st century have forgotten — or never learned — the value or benefits of a few golden moments of silence and solitude.

But is this another meddlesome area for nannylike lawmakers to legislate human behavior when a little common sense and courtesy is in order? Smoke-free zones? Transfat-free zones? Now, they are coming after phone addicts and talkaholics.

We long ago learned the dangers of drinking and driving, primarily with the threat and implementation of stiff law-enforcement measures. We have been warned about driving while talking, too, because statistics indicate the practice is potentially dangerous. Few among us will readily admit our own close calls.

But if a couple of Maryland senators get their way, they will bring a halt to driving while discussing the weather or dishing the dirt.

Predictable as the General Assembly begins each January, two legislators have reintroduced bills that will make it unlawful to talk on your cell phone while behind the wheel. And the measures introduced this week don’t just prohibit the use of hand-held devices; they prohibit all talking while behind the wheel.

The well-meaning but misdirected legislators want to outlaw all forms of distracted driving, including — clutch the pearls, Sistagirls — putting on your lipstick while in the car.

Now, how’s a girl to get a little red-light flirtation going if she can’t touch up her bare, chapped lips for the cutie in the next car? Give us a break. Why do these lawmakers think automobile designers came up with those fancy lighted mirrors in the first place?

“So we’re going to have police officers pulling over women because they saw them put lipstick on?” asked Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford Republican and a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which will consider the proposals.

Can you believe it? Among the restricted activities in the “distracted-driving” bill are personal grooming, reading and writing.

Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat, filed the distracted-driving legislation 18 months after his car was totaled by a driver talking on a phone.

The legislation to ban distracted driving would include a $500 penalty and one point on the driver’s license for the first offense. A second bill would target only cell-phone use and impose a $100 fine.

Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat and vice chairman of the committee, opposes the bills and said common sense should dictate driving behavior. “You shouldn’t have to tell the legislature to ban” driving distractions, Miss Gladden said. Exactly.

Maryland two years ago banned the use of hand-held cell phones for drivers younger than 18. The District imposes a $100 fine for anyone caught yakking on a hand-held phone. Similar measures failed in Virginia. The federal government is considering a nationwide ban.

And, the Center for Auto Safety has filed a petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration seeking to restrict the use of Global Positioning System navigating, such as OnStar by General Motors, and built-in entertainment devices.

As I have suggested in the past, laws requiring hands-free cell-phone use while driving were useless, primarily because they are hard to enforce. They are not uniformly applied in this tri-jurisdiction region and they single out cell-phone use among all the other accidents caused by the more extensive problem of distracted drivers.

Distracted drivers come in all varieties: Those watching videos or reading. Those reaching over to restrain a child. Those who lean over to put out a cigarette. Those who want to switch to a different tune. Those trying to dig those salty, greasy fries out of the bag. Those running their mouths while driving. The list goes on.

We can’t pass laws for every distraction. More importantly, how are these laws going to be enforced? There already is a laundry list of traffic violations and infractions for which officers and state troopers can pull you over. Some of those laws already prohibit reckless driving and endangering others.

A lot of problems arise with ill-mannered or ill-timed use of technology such as cell phones. But the handy tools also have been a lifesaver in emergency situations.

In our hustle-bustle lives, we think we can multitask without consequence. Yet, all we really need to do is be more careful and considerate. It shouldn’t take the threat of a whopping fine to exercise common sense and common courtesy.

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