Cell phones and driving

Recently I read a story about the National Safety Council wanting the government to ban talking on cell phones while driving.

 It got me to thinking about driving distractions.

No, I’m not talking about my wife, who offers an occasional comment (well, maybe more than occasional) about how I’m driving too far to the left or too close to the car in front of me.

Actually, in her role as “driver’s helper,” Jenny’s saved me from a couple of accidents.

I was thinking about all the gadgets that have come along to compete with looking at the road and thinking about driving.

First, let me say this is not a tirade against gadgets. I use some of them and I sometimes talk on the phone while driving. 

In fact, on long-distance drives on four-lane divided highways, I find having a phone chat with someone helps keep me attentive. I know that goes against the research, and it probably makes me a bad person.

But I don’t foresee the government getting drivers off of their cell phones. Reducing cell-phone use in city traffic might be a more attainable goal.

But at least I don’t drive and send text messages. Of course, that’s probably because I barely can get my clumsy fingers to text the right letters while I’m using both hands, concentrating hard and sitting at my desk.

(Remember that college kid who was caught texting test answers with one hand while his phone was in his pocket? He must have been something.)

As far as I’m concerned, worrying about cell phones is so yesterday. Today’s concern really ought to be about touch-screen devices such as GPS navigation.

I didn’t know much about them until last Christmas when we visited Jenny’s parents in northern Kentucky. They had bought a car with a navigation screen and they invited me to drive it.

It was mesmerizing. It was so much fun watching the little arrow (our car) move along the screen that I found myself constantly staring at it instead of the road. The “driver’s helper” was pretty busy.

It was a neat gadget. No matter where we were in the Cincinnati area, it could find their house. Of course, we really didn’t need any help; they’ve lived there 50 years. 

It couldn’t find anything else, though, because the car salesman programmed in their house. And the screen was so complicated they hadn’t figured out how to enter an address.

Things weren’t much different last weekend when her parents drove down to visit us for the Fourth of July. 

Jenny’s parents even had gone back to the dealer and had our address programmed in advance of the seven-hour trip.

But they arrived exasperated. They couldn’t figure out what button to push to get it started, and it spent the entire trip giving wrong directions and then saying in that annoying computer voice that it was “recalculating.” Fortunately, they knew the way.

I can’t really figure out why so many people are buying GPS gadgets. Most of us spend a good part of our lives following the same driving routine day after day.

Even though I’m a relative newcomer, I can find my way all around New Albany – even if I’m talking on my cell phone.

T. Wayne Mitchell, interim publisher of the Gazette, can be reached by phone at 662-534-6321 or e-mail at publisher@newalbanygazette.com.