Text if you must, but not if you’re behind the wheel

  • Tue Jan 19th, 2010 10:58pm
  • News

By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist

Here’s a confession: I don’t text.

Sometimes, at a movie theater or concert, that makes me feel awfully left out. There I’ll be, paying attention.

Half the beauty in any arts performance is the escape it provides. For just a little while, we’re free of our nagging concerns. When I see those little screens light up in darkened theaters, restaurants, really everywhere, I don’t get it.

My youngest child, who has never known a world without hand-held technology, views my lack of interest in texting as a serious deficiency. He thinks I ought to get a cool new phone and learn to text. I think he ought to respect the fact that to me, text is a noun, not a verb.

Someday I may finally read the instructions and use my cell phone for something other than calling my mom. For now, I’m glad I’m not hooked on text messaging. Combined with driving, it’s a dangerous habit, one I won’t be needing to break.

I have struggled with the impulse to use drive time as talk time, although I have tried to ditch that habit since the Legislature passed a law in 2007 banning drivers from using phones except with hands-free devices.

The stakes may soon get higher. State lawmakers are considering whether to make what is now a secondary offense — drivers can’t be stopped only for using cell phones — into a primary offense. Hearings were held Monday on bills that would let police, without any other cause, stop drivers using cell phones and issue $124 tickets. Calling with hands-free devices would still be legal.

One state trooper said Tuesday that it’s frustrating to be unable to act when he sees obvious signs of distracted driving. “It’s horrible, I can’t really do anything,” said trooper Mark Francis, whose patrol area is primarily Skagit County.

“Their attention is divided,” Francis said. “It’s following too close, drifting over the center line almost like drunk driving, and common-courtesy things like not getting out of the left lane.”

Francis said that people on cell phones often go more slowly than the flow of traffic, much like drunken drivers. “It’s another kind of impaired driver,” he said. “Making it a secondary offense, people don’t take it seriously at all.”

Yet by now, we have all seen news reports of tests in which drivers’ reaction times are measured while they text. We know about lives lost because someone was using a cell phone while driving.

Let’s just quit it, OK? Quit talking and texting while driving. Text at the movies if you have to. At least there, it will only bother people. It won’t kill anyone.

If a law with teeth can get us to give up distracted driving, how about distracted living?

Here’s another confession: I’ve become a Facebook junkie. Since joining the social networking site a year or so ago, I have reconnected with grade-school friends and exchanged quips with friends and quasi friends.

All that texting, tweeting and online updating might be messing not only with our safety but with our happiness. Tal Ben-Shahar, whose “Positive Psych” class was the most popular course at Harvard University one semester in 2006, has recently been on a PBS lecture program, “Happiness 101.” Ben-Shahar is also featured in an article in this week’s Parade magazine, with the headline “Make Happiness Happen!”

“We’ve all been trained to maximize every minute of our day,” the former Harvard lecturer is quoted as saying in the article. “But people who are able to focus on just one thing — even for one or two hours a day — are not only happier at their work, they’re also more productive and creative.”

All our high-tech efforts to keep in touch may seem fun, but they sometimes rob us of real life. And sometimes, they cost real lives.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.