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Driven to distraction
April 18, 2013, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

Put on the Bluetooth, set down the phone and figure out how to make the Dragon dictation software translate spoken words into written text that remotely resembles anything close to the actual intent. April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month which means law enforcement is flooding the streets and highways while scofflaws like yours truly figure out crafty ways to continue texting out Great American Novel equivalents with one hand while steering. In fact, I’m texting this column as I speak. Just kidding.

As if the distracted driving restrictions aren’t narrow enough — thanks Joe Simitian! — the list continues to grow. The latest ban is on drivers using their phones to check maps which is more frustrating that the Highway 101 commute. A three-judge appellate court panel ruled the California law cracking down on driving and texting while driving also extends to map devices. No matter if the driver is stuck in a traffic jam — as was the man whose $160 ticket sparked the ruling over his use of an iPhone to find an alternative route — or just looking for the nearest In-N-Out. In the judges’ opinion, the phone is a distraction whether used as an actual phone, a GPS navigator, a clock or an email vessel.

Fair enough, but what about paper maps? Those are still legal and squinting at teeny-tiny squiggly lines representing roads has got to be a lot more distracting than henpecking an address into a phone screen.

There is no argument driving distractions are a real problem and way too many accidents have a cellphone at their core. But the problem is justifying bans on phone-related diversions while simultaneously allowing items and actions that at face value appear a heck of a lot more distracting: makeup application, changing the radio station, screaming children, jumping dogs, reaching for that scarf or hat that fell down behind the seat, coffee, successfully navigating French fries into ketchup packets. Even feeling around the center console to actually find the Bluetooth earpiece is sketchy; those things are tiny.

You know another distracting, although not on-the-books illegal, thing to do while speeding down the highway? Shaving. And not the face.

Last month, 37-year-old Megan Barnes created a hairy situation when she crashed into a pickup truck while — wait for it — shaving her bikini line in preparation for a date with a boyfriend. I guess she was undaunted by the risky idea of a sharp object near vulnerable body parts.

Granted, her ex-husband was steering the vehicle, albeit from the passenger seat, which begs the question: Why didn’t she just let him initially get behind the wheel while she focused on the personal grooming? The kicker is that the previous day she was convicted of driving under the influence. Now the Florida woman has a DWS along with her DUI which is a clean-cut case of an action a whole lot more distracting than texting. Where’s the anti-shaving legislation?

Same goes for former vice mayor William Blakely of Tennessee who is also charged with recklessness behind the wheel. Suffice to say the offending object in Blakely’s hand while speeding down the highway at 90 mph was not a cellphone. No, instead it was — well, let’s just say he was thinking with his other brain. Three women testified at his hearing that Blakely masturbated out of an open car window while motioning at other female drivers to lift up their shirts.

And maps on phones are a problem?

Over in Detroit, concerned drivers alerted law enforcement that another motorist was driving like a child. A responding officer found out why; the driver was 6 years old. Seems the boy, who never had a lesson a day in his life but had watched his dad, swiped the family station wagon and headed out in search of the Chinese restaurant where he’d recently eaten. After smacking a street sign, the thoughtful tyke was heading toward a dealer to get the bumper fixed when he was stopped by a sheriff’s deputy.

He couldn’t have been doing much worse than Blakely or Barnes and he reportedly had both hands on the wheel. Funny how only one of these three was breaking a specific driving law. At least he didn’t seem to need a phone map to find his way.

Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor:

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