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Columbia Missourian

Driving requires attention on road, not phone

By J Karl Miller
July 21, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

The thought process driving a columnist’s initiative to commit his or her thoughts to paper often traverses divergent paths. Most who write for publication do so because they enjoy it and aim for subjects intended to hold the reader’s interest while also assaying to provide for the common good by inciting ideas.

Most strive for as much originality as possible.There is only so much, however, that is sufficiently current and newsworthy as to provoke public interest. Among the current subjects I discarded out of hand was the resignation and subsequent furor over Sarah Palin. I leave this to the malicious feline pens of syndicated columnists such as Maureen Dowd, Ellen Goodman and Kathleen Parker who seem to enjoy a vicarious excitement in rehashing and retrashing the foibles of Alaska’s former governor.


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The impetus for my column this week occurred Monday afternoon on my way to the dentist. At approximately 2:45 p.m., traveling westbound on Locust, I stopped for the sign at the intersection of 6th Street. After looking both ways and seeing only a southbound automobile a little more than half a block away, I prepared to cross the intersection — fortunately, my right peripheral vision was sharp, and I observed that automobile moving too fast to stop. Having long ago surrendered any urge to live dangerously, I stopped short while a young lady ran the stop sign at about 25 mph with — you guessed it — a cell phone at her ear, completely oblivious to reality.

That incident and a recent Missourian headline, “Texting-driving law faces foes,” irritated me to no end. That the legislature’s efforts to pass legislation banning or at least restricting the use of hand-held cell phones for talking or text messaging while operating a motor vehicle have been continually thwarted by those who view the restrictions as an “invasion of privacy” and by a powerful real estate lobby defies the boundaries of good judgment and common sense.

Moreover, the omnibus crime bill, passed and signed by the governor this month, rendering it illegal for persons 21 and younger to text message while driving is similarly asinine. The notion that drivers of any age are permitted to text and read messages on the move is so nonsensical and devoid of wisdom to be laughable if it were not so dangerous. In fact, because of better reflexes, the 21-and-younger crowd is more suited to survive in this "Twilight Zone" absurdity.

In matters of this nature, I am reminded of Lt. Col. W. W. Taylor, my battalion commander during my first tour in Vietnam. A fine Marine and an able commander, Taylor, from Georgia, minced no words in pithy and often profane assessments of personnel and situations. The observation that comes to mind as most appropriate herein was this comment to one of my contemporaries who had offered a less-than-sterling solution to an impending problem, to wit: “Captain, you are abusing your God-given right to be stupid.”

I fail to see how any right-minded individual can defend hand-held talking or text messaging on a cell phone while in operation of a motor vehicle. While driving is not a particularly difficult endeavor, it requires a more-than-average attentiveness — a capacity to observe and obey routine rules of the road and traffic signals while also being prepared to react immediately in an emergency. These abilities for reflexive reactions are not attributes of those using cell phones or reading/texting messages while driving.

I am not now nor have I ever been a particular fan of government intervention or intrusion into private affairs; nevertheless, when my personal safety and that of others is at issue, I do not hesitate to endorse sensible regulation. The last time I looked, there were statutes prohibiting driving under the influence of alcohol or dangerous drugs.

There is good and sufficient reason for these laws — a substance or activity that impairs the reaction, vision or awareness of the driver constitutes a hazard to others on the road. No reasonable person will disagree that alcohol and drugs impair a driver’s reactive ability nor that hand-held talking or texting while driving is distracting. Reasonable individuals must also agree that there is little difference in being killed by a drunken or spaced-out-on-drugs driver than by one whose inattention is caused by talking, texting or reading.

Finally, while the right to privacy might logically extend to one’s person, home, sexual orientation, religion, etc. —  it does not give one license to place my, or your, life or limbs in jeopardy. As for the real estate community, the development of the cell phone has created mobile offices. It would appear, however, that in the interests of public safety, it would be prudent to communicate while parked.

There is but one reason the legislature has not passed legislation limiting the hazardous use of cell talking and texting while driving — we, whom they represent, have not required them to do so.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at