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Fatal distraction 

Lezlie Lowe pleads for salvation from her cell phone.

An incomplete list of activities in which I have engaged while driving a car: applied lipstick, eaten a veggie burger combo, looked up a number in my address book and dialed my cell phone, scrounged around for fallen cinnamon bun pieces on the back seat floor, given a hand job and set the pre-programmed stations on my radio. I’m probably going 60km/h eating a croissant right now, trying to remove a cardigan without taking off my seatbelt.

And I’ve never been the cause of an accident.

Look, I’m not proud. This isn’t one of those finger-waggers like when your mum tells you how you never had a car seat and you slept on your face as a newborn and you turned out fine.

It’s this: I have not managed to eke through these situations by way of skill, and certainly not by virtue of the prowess and experience stacked behind my years of driving. I have only managed not to smack into the toll gate at the Macdonald Bridge while rummaging around for tokens lost under the gas pedal by luck. Pure luck.

Our most bandied-about current culprit when it comes to poor driving and accidents is, of course, the cell phone. Everyone knows cell yakkers are at best shitheads who don’t signal when they turn left and at worst—according to an April 2006 US study—the number one distraction for drivers in a world where 80 percent of accidents are caused by driver inattention. It’s crazy, then, that Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province with a ban on hand-held cell phones for all drivers.

And it’s more outrageous still that a new recommendation from the Canadian Automobile Association calls for a ban on cell phones (as well as other electronic devices like iPods) for new drivers as part of provincial graduated licensing programs. Come ON. Everyone needs to put calls on hold when they’re behind the wheel.

Experience helps you drive, naturally. But there’s more to it than practice. It’s honouring time behind the wheel as driving time, not as a break in the day to be filled with aesthetics, meals and paperwork. It’s coming to terms with what cars really are: 3,000-pound hulks of metal and glass that we hurl missile-like down streets and highways. This is beyond age.

Anyone buying this? No. I didn’t think so. Oh, wait, I see, only the ones like me who agree in theory but who will slip in a cell call here and there anyway and still eat fries on the way to the bank because lunch is tight and only the ones who think it’s a good idea for new drivers but not for them because somehow being a seasoned distracted driver counteracts the effects of the cell.

There’s one easy solution here: We need laws, not regulations; for everyone, not just new drivers. For the short term, punish the offenders; over the long haul, habitually distracted drivers—and cell phones, really, are just the tip of the iceberg here—will become the social pariahs they should be, like drunk drivers before them.

For god’s sake, will someone legislate these Kanye West-ringtoned mofos out of our hands and save us from ourselves? And someone, please, take my lipstick too.

Don’t type and drive. But do email: lezliel@thecoast.ca

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