Oregon’s new hands-free cel phone law

Published 2010-01-04

...has not apparently rendered Oregon drivers any less inattentive.

I’m all YAY for this new law but it feels like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Hell, it feels like writing a strongly-worded letter to the White Star Lines home office regarding the disposition of seating arrangements on the Titanic. My usual hobbyhorse regarding the scatterbrained drool-producers who do crap like text while driving down the bus-only lane on Sixth Avenue (which I witnessed this very morning...) isn’t:

“we need more laws against driving down the bus-only lane on Sixth Avenue while texting”

but rather:

“getting and keeping a driver’s license should be so difficult that people stupid enough to drive down the bus-only lane on Sixth Avenue while texting will be unable to do so.”

All of which occasioned me to reflect on how little I’ve had to do to prove myself worthy of pushing two tons of metal around at 75mph.

When I was sixteen years old — the same age at which I thought it was a good idea to cut my own hair with dog clippers — I took a driving test that lasted 30 minutes. And I passed a written test that I could have opted to have read to me in case I were illiterate. (Can I suggest that, just for starters, you need to be able to read English to take a driver’s test?). That was in 1987. I passed these two tests 22 years ago and that was apprently good enough. FOREVER.

In 1996 the State of Oregon, in order to verify that the State of Nebraska had done its job nine years earlier, made me take their written test. Which was on a video. And which I could again have read to me. They also checked my eyesight.

That was the last time — 13 years ago! — that I had to demonstrate my mental or physical capacity to drive a car.

Is driving a “right?” That’s not was Mr. Seng told me in Driver’s Ed, 22 years ago. His exact phrase was “driving is a privilege, not a right.” If it’s not a right, why do we go so far out of our way to make it easy to pass the driver’s test?

Cars are ultra super deadly. They are the most common cause of death for people under 25 in the United States. 35,000 Americans die in car crashes every year and another 100,000 are injured. This is serious stuff. Driving a car is difficult and potentially fatal.

So, YAY for the new hands-free law. Now that we’re discussing the deck chairs can we direct our attention back to the iceberg?