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Friday, December 23, 2011

An Open Letter To The Lady In the Center Lane

Dear fellow driver,

Question:

What’s it going to take?

No, seriously, how bad does it have to be?

Just how outright silly stupid dangerous do things have to get before you put down your cell phone and pay attention to the road?

I left Anchorage last evening, headed for the Valley on the Glenn Highway. 

I suppose that requires some additional description for those of you who don’t, in fact, live in South Central Alaska.  See, it was about 4 PM, the sun had set and the sky was turning pitch dark.  It was snowing. No, strike that, it was snowing like a bitch with intermittent whiteout conditions driven by strong winds along the highway. In fact, it had been snowing all day in your standard issue Alaskan blizzard. The road itself was coated in an uneven, two to three inch thick, layer of packed snow interspersed between patches of black ice – because apparently ADOT no longer feels the need to actually get off their fat asses and do the job we pay them for, i.e. clearing the damned roads and putting down some sand.   It was rush hour and despite the horrible conditions, homeward bound commuters were moving along between fifty and sixty miles per hour, which of course, caused even more blowing snow and reduced visibility even further.

Then there was you.

You were doing about thirty in the middle lane, drifting back and forth from side to side.

Cars were piled up behind you for a hundred yards. 

Angry and frustrated drivers were recklessly swerving into both the inner and outer lanes trying to avoid the backup you were causing. 

As I came up the inner lane, cautiously watching out for drivers dodging out from behind you and in front of me while fishtailing on the icy roads, I thought perhaps you were having trouble handling the conditions. I thought maybe you were one of the those idiots who doesn’t bother with winter tires, or maybe you were like the guy I saw the other day at the intersection of the Parks and Glenn Highways with three “limper tires” and one headlight. I realized that I was being uncharitable.  Maybe, I thought, you were old, or had poor eyesight and maybe you were scared of the horrible conditions and simply being cautious.  Less charitably, I thought that despite your (presumed) justifiable caution, you like most Alaskan drivers were pathologically incapable of understanding Left Lane Fast, Right Lane Slow or simply didn’t care that you were making an already dangerous situation worse. 

But, of course, it wasn’t because you were being cautious. Was it?

No, you were texting.

As I pulled alongside your 4x4 SUV, I could see you staring intently down at your steering wheel oblivious to the road, the blizzard, and the traffic piled up behind you.  You face was under-lit by the white glow of your phone.  Your thumbs were moving madly back and forth over the screen like a kid caught in a Chinese finger puzzle.

Perhaps you remember me?  I’m the guy in the green truck. The one that blew his horn at you when you began to drift into my lane. 

Or perhaps not, since you just jerked the wheel to the right and never bothered to glance up.

So, back to my question.

How dangerous does it have to get? 

Icy roads. Darkness. Blizzard. Three lanes of rush hour traffic. Even combined, that wasn’t enough to make you put down your phone and pay attention to the road.

How many lives do you have to endanger before you start paying attention?

You own life obviously isn’t worth it.

Nor was the life of the small toddler you had strapped into the child seat behind you.  And indeed there might have been two kids back there, I couldn’t see the entire back seat clearly, just the one small hand drawing patterns on the fogged window facing me.

Nor was my life worth it to you.  Nor the other twenty or so lives within your immediate vicinity.

So, one life isn’t enough. Twenty lives aren’t enough.  So, how many lives do you have to endanger before you start paying attention? Thirty? A hundred?  Is there a number that matters to you more than whoever it was that you were chatting with online?

Ice, snow, whiteout conditions. None of these things seem to be important enough to make you pay attention to the road. What would? An erupting volcano maybe? A forest fire.  The return of Bearded Angry Jesus? A herd of enraged charging elephants ridden by crazed robot polar bears armed with machine gun lasers?  What?

I noticed that your tailgate had two stickers on it. 

One said, ironically, Watch For Motorcycles.  Where? On YouTube?

The other one, even more ironically said, Abortion Is Murder.  Let me ask you something.  What do you call it when a clueless idiot like yourself kills her kids because she was driving through a fucking blizzard on a dark icy highway while staring at her goddamned phone?  Would you call that murder too? Or just negligent homicide? What if you kill yourself and your kids, is that murder/suicide?  How about if you kill me, would I be just collateral damage? How about if you killed twenty of us in a massive pileup? Serial murder, or would that be genocide?

You are a danger to everyone around you.  You don’t deserve to have a drivers license.  And if it was up to me, I’d take away your goddamned kids and charge you with reckless endangerment. If I could have gotten your license plate I would have filed charges against you for endangering my life. If I had been facing you on the side of the road I would have kicked your fucking ass. The fact that you are a woman bothers me not all, you deserve a good and thorough ass kicking – because there is apparently nothing else, short of cutting off your goddamned thumbs, that will get through to you.

You’re an asshole, a selfish, ignorant, stupid fucking asshole. 

Sincerely,

Jim

 


This country needs to implement a Federal law making texting while driving a felony on par with Reckless Endangerment and subject to severe penalty. The states are too damned stupid to get it done. It needs to happen at the Federal level, and it needs to happen right now.  I’m talking immediate loss of license, substantial fine, and jail time for starters.  I’m getting damned sick and tired of having my life and the lives of my loved ones endangered by these jackasses.

44 comments:

  1. Here in Chicago, a lot of people do not have cars. I spend a lot of time on the sidewalks, and I have to change direction or stand still all the time because people are looking down at their phones.

    Sometimes people will get off the CTA train, and come to a dead stop on the stairs because whatever they are looking at on their phone is more important than not falling down twenty steps. Nobody can do anything else when they are paying attention to their phone.

    So when someone says they can drive and text at the same time, my respect for them as a human being dies.

    Why do people find these petty little devices more compelling than their own lives?

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  2. I will dial 911 on a cell phone while driving, that is the limit.

    Like for this: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/13/nyregion/13retain.html?pagewanted=all

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  3. Amen! We have a few of those in Iowa too - I am just thankful we have not had any bad snow driving conditions (yet). At first, I just thought it was that Iowans drove really bad but then I realized that about the time we moved here was the time that everyone and their child (and dog) jumped on the texting bandwagon. Take yourself out? Fine. Take me (and potentially my kid) out? Screw you jerk. We have a no driving-texting law here but every few weeks some halfwit dies from driving while texting (on a good day, it's just the halfwit; on a bad day, it's the halfwit and a victim or two)

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  4. I heartedly agree! In BC it is illegal, yet I still see people doing it everyday. My Christmas wish is for a laser or wavelength blaster that I could press, to shut down and break any actively working texting device or using a hand held phone etc that I see being used when driving.
    Surely you can come up with something, that would do this? I would be one of your first customers.

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  5. Next time Jim, relax, follow the idiot home or wherever, calmly get out of your truck and tell her to her face how you feel, exactly how you just told us. Maybe, just maybe you can make her shit her pants and think twice about texting while driving.

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  6. Well said, Jim.
    and even in ordinary clear driving conditions, we have the idiots who are busy on their phones - and just sit there when the traffic light changes.
    And we all know what their offended response is likely to be, if you tap your horn to get their attention.

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  7. I love Mickey-T's reply. I also favor your idea to cut off their thumbs. This offense warrants an over the top punishment as it is so dangerous and laws against it are so blatantly ignored.

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  8. I recently had to do some intense maneuvering to avoid a motoring moron who felt their cell phone required more attention that the road.

    If I had a dime for every time I watched a car on our 2 lane highway cross the center line, I'd probably be able to buy a seat in congress with the proceeds...and THEN I'd bring back the stocks and start putting people who text in them, and hand out artichokes to the crowd (no soft and fuzzy rotten tomatoes...I want something that HURTS).

    I told my hubby after that recent incident, that I was starting to think the general motoring public has basked too long in my self-preserving benevolence. My car has got a couple of parking lot scars (from doors and buggies and such). I start thinking it sound like a good idea to let Mr. Textacles trade a little paint with me the next time he drifts into my lane. Of course, then common sense kicks in, and I remind myself that chaos and Murphy's law go hand-in-hand, and it would turn out the Mr. Textacles has no insurance. *sigh* Plus, I have this pesky desire to live...and see others continue to do so as well.

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  9. I find myself in "town" about every 6 weeks or so. I stay in the valley and commute to Anchorage back and forth. Now I grew up driving in Atlanta on 285, so I can do speed driving when I need to, but now that I'm a Mom and in no particular hurry, I enjoy sitting in the right lane listening to KNBA and watch the idiots zooming by at high rates of speed, under conditions like you describe, and they are usually on the phone.

    I like to honk and wave at them when I see them pulled over by the Trooper a few miles later.

    Remember the terrible wreck last year on the Glenn Hwy with the lady speeding in the truck with the snowplow attachment that killed her kids when she caught the guard rail on the plow? The image still lurks in my mind and bothers the heck out of me.

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  10. I USED to have a friend who texted while driving all the time. A few years back while riding with him in the front passenger seat he received a text. It was 10:30 at night on a curvy back country wisconsin road. Instead of ignoring the text he replied, swerving into the other lane nearly hitting a minivan. I asked him politly not to do it again. He shrugged off my request and replied to yet another one. This time we were going around a long blind curve just up the road from a well known local dairy farm. I saw the shimmering of headlights breaking. The dark curve and increasingly louder started yelling my friends name to watch the road. He was still texting. The oncomming vehicle finally came around the corner, a two ton milk truck and we we're in his lane. It took me grabbing the damn wheel and yanking us back to our lane and back from our impending death. I took his phone and chucked it in the back seat. Upon finishing the curve I got him to pull over, walked over to his side of the car, pulled him out and got behind the wheel saying " your need to communicate to others right now is apparently more important than me. Shut the f*ck up and get in the back seat with your god damn phone". Like I said I used to have a friend who texted while driving. No he's not dead, yet, but after another simular situation I cut ties with him for I apparently wasn't worth much to him.

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  11. absofrigginlutely
    "bearded angry Jesus" *snort*

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  12. I no longer own a car but I will not allow my friends to text while driving when I am in the car even in slow moving city traffic. I have been nearly hit and watched other pedestrians be nearly hit by asshole over-tanned under-brained Lincoln Park trixies in their giant SUVs whilst they gabber or text on the phone not even looking or slowing down at the crosswalk. And to add to what Everyday Freethought said, there have been people who have actually fallen off the CTA El platforms because they were too busy with their phones. When I do drive I won't even talk on a phone without pulling over first, I cannot drive and use a phone and I know no one else can either, regardless of what they claim. Drunks think they can drive too.

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  13. This is a great rant... [Pi-doong!] Wait, I think I have a message.

    *

    *

    * It's just some jerk telling me to put the phone down and drive. Why can't folks just mind their own business?

    *

    *

    Oh, wait, this IS their business.

    *

    There is something you can point at electronics and totally mess them up. But you shouldn't use sharpshooter weapons while driving, either.

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  14. I agree with everything you say... however, I have seen just as many men doing the same thing. I have also seen men (contractor types, based on their vehicle door advertising) talking on their cellphone using a notebook wedged in the steering wheel. Stupidity is not gender based. Texting in vehicles should be illegal with dire consequences. I wouldn't even mind if cellphone use while driving was completely outlawed.

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  15. @Jeanne, Oh yes, completely agree. This problem is in no way gender specific. Apologies if I implied that it was, I certainly didn't intend it that way.

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  16. This.

    I cannot believe we even have to have this discussion. People have to give up their special snowflake status and grow some responsibility.

    Dr. Phil

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  17. Oh Jim! This hits home on so many levels. I live in VA, fortunately our weather is considerably more mild than yours, but still we have a large share of idiots driving here. I am a cyclist (please, no comments about cyclists breaking traffic laws - that is for a completely different discussion, thankyouverymuch), and cell phones and distracted drivers scare me to death. Fortunately for me, I live in a very rural, very cycling-friendly area but that does not take away from the fear of that one texting/talking/video-watching moron who happens to come along just as I pedal down my side of the road. I only wish those who really need to read this would....and would realize it is meant for them! Thanks for another great post, Jim, and I am sorry for your experience. Happy holidays!

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  18. In my not-so-humble opinion, anyone caught drunk driving or texting while driving should be tried for attempted manslaughter.

    4000 pounds of metal moving at an average of 50 MPH equals highly probable death for someone if it goes out of control.

    Of course, I even see it around here, where there is no such thing as a straight road, most roads have rocky hill on one side and a plummet into the valley/river/creek on the other, and enough suicidal deer to feed the unemployed population of the state for a year hanging out in the trees along the side of the road just waiting to dash in front of your car.

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  19. Unfortunately it's not just drivers, a woman was recently killed by a Calgary Transit train when she was distracted by what might have been texting (Police reports only say she was looking at a small electronic device and not at her surroundings when the train hit her).

    http://www.globaltvcalgary.com/woman+killed+by+ctrain+distracted+by+electronic+device+prior+to+collision/6442536300/story.html

    I agree that being distracted when behind the wheel is so much worse (nothing like losing control of 4,000 Lbs of hurtling steel to potentially ruin a lot of peoples lives) but in general, it seems that people are becoming more and more oblivious to their surroundings (and the dangers to them as well as the danger they may present to others) because of these digital distractions.

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  20. Jim, don't hold back. Tell us how you really feel.

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  21. The National Transportation Safety Board — an advisory group that can only make suggestions — is urging legislators in 50 states to ban all cell phone use among drivers.

    It's the agency's strongest recommendation yet in the nation's battle against distracted driving, which kills thousands of people every year.

    While many cities and states have already approved laws that prohibit texting while driving, an outright ban on all cell phone use — with the exception of emergencies — would be a tough sell in a society addicted to smartphones and the like.

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  22. This is a masterpiece of outrage. Your observations and my own related experience lead to the conclusion that the fastest growing ideology of the 21st century is neither conservatism nor liberalism. It is assholism. see:

    http://www.collectivereinventions.org/Archives/pages/assholism.htm

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  23. Been in the driver's seat on situations similar, wishing I had a passenger with a camera. Following the texting driver to where they stop, taking pictures and pressing charges might be an option at times. There is a device (understand it is illegal in US) that interupts cell transmissions; daily I want one.

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  24. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SC3x7K3EOTk

    Thanks. It can't be said often enough or loud enough.

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  25. So, what are you trying to say?

    I don't text while driving for two reasons: 1) it's not safe; 2: it's beyond my limited skills.

    So, here in sunny Florida, we have these real toad-strangler rainstorms. The smart driver just pulls over on the nice paved shoulder and waits it out. You really can't see anything, and driving is stupid. The half-smart people turn on every light they've got, including their flashers which are technically not supposed to be flashing while you are actually moving, and slow way down. (Sadly, I fall into that half-smart category far too often). During one of those gully washers, I saw a prime example of driving with no brains at all. I had slowed to about 45 or so (and those in front of me and behind did pretty much the same, if they hadn't pulled off the road which they and I should have). A van passed me in the left lane doing about 85 or so, with no lights on at all, followed by another vehicle doing the same thing about two car-lengths back. At that point, I pulled off the road.

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  26. Not to pollute your blog with excess comments, I thought I'd just say that I've added a blog where I actually say stuff to my blog where I mainly just post photos. The new blog is largesleepinganimals.wordpress.com

    I know, shameless self-promotion.

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  27. Somewhere, out in the wilds of Redmond, Washington, there is a smoke grey Acura with a dent in the trunk. The driver took a sharp right turn - while on the phone - through the crosswalk I was attempting to cross through. As the car passed at speed, wheels squealing and everything, I yelled and brought my hand (with a titanium ring) down on the trunk hard enough to dent it. Would love to see that explanation to the insurance company for that one.

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  28. Saw a recent poll where 20% of people admitted texting while driving, though 90% thought it was dangerous for a driver to do it when they were a passenger....

    While we're on the subject of road idiots, and it's winter, let me put in a word for clearing ALL the snow off your vehicle before driving. Twice in one trip last winter I had to brake and swerve as a big slab of snow or ice flew off a car roof or SUV ahead of me.

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  29. Phones need to have a GPS Device that disables texting when the phone is moving faster than a human can walk! Seriously! How hard could that be to implement?

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  30. @SteveA: the problem with that is that it would disable texting if you're a passenger too.

    There is an app that will do exactly this, disable the phone for both voice and text while moving. Parents I know install it on their kids' phones. It comes with a parental password to prevent kids from disabling it. But, what happens if the kid should have to dial/text in an emergency? I'm not sure I'm entirely good with this idea.

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  31. It should be simple for the app to realize 911 is an exception.

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  32. True.

    However, I'd be interested in how the app knew if the user was the driver or the passenger. As a programmer in a previous life, I'd be very interested in that code. I suppose a really good GPS/Camera-based position recognition system might work :)

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  33. I can't quickly think of anyway for the app to know if it is driver or passenger>

    I could rube goldberg some feedback between an ignition bio metric and a cell phone, but I'm not certain ignition bio metric has been more than talked about.

    Since mine is approaching 37 that aspect doesn't concern me.

    I just wish people wouldn't drive and use hand held devices.

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  34. In CA, it is already against the law... and it doesn't dissuade them.

    And when the cops are doing it, too....

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  35. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  36. What I can't understand Jim is why you don't just come out and say what you really think and quit beating around the bush. I’m one of those motorcycle drivers that the bumper sticker was so kind to remind “other drivers” to watch out for. I live in CA and even with a law, I haven’t seen much change.

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  37. What about those assholes on the Seward Highway a few years ago who crashed and killed that couple while watching a DVD? The passenger actually texted that they were "zoned out watching a DVD", and then denied doing that.

    You can't tell me manufacturers aren't able to install a switch that disables electronics in a vehicle when it starts up.

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  38. Hey! Hey, you Alaska people and no nuthin' yankees.
    My governor vetoed a no texting while driving bill, during the last session, because it infringed on individual rights.
    Right after he signed the "Women must have a sonogram before getting an abortion to save her life" bill.
    Good ole Rick Perry.

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  39. I have a friend who purchased a small, but effective, cell phone jammer from overseas. Not exactly legal here, but works great when some moron on a cell phone is a road hazard.

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  40. Here in NY it is illegal to use either a handheld cell phone or to text while driving.

    This law was passed in great part due to the tragedy that happened in 2007 in Fairport, NY near Rochester. Five girls who had graduated from high school only five days earlier were killed when they crossed into the oncoming lane on a country road and were hit head on by a tractor trailer. The car burst into flames but the girls were already dead from the impact.

    The police determined that someone in the car was texting on the driver's phone moments before impact. No one will ever know if it was the driver or a passenger, but the distraction was enough for the young, inexperienced driver to overcorrect a steering mistake and crash into the truck.

    Five young lives lost too soon - their families and an entire community devastated.

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  41. OK, a tangential question:
    If you kill yourself *AND* your children due to texting while driving, are you still eligible for the Darwin Award?

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    Replies
    1. Of course you're eligible. You just did an even BETTER job of removing your "I'm an idiot." genes from the gene pool.

      Delete
  42. Any car sold in America after 1/3/13 must be equipped with an ignition interlock device. Should the number of the current driver emit a text, access information from the internet, or be turned on, the car will explode.

    You're welcome.

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  43. Thank you. I've written several of these types of letters myself and just WISH that it was possible to get the address of the owner of the car and mail the letter to them. This works though.

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