Intermittently humorous comedian Ron White is famous for his "You can't fix stupid" line and the realities of daily life seem to reinforce that viewpoint over and over. Case in point: yesterday I was driving home from the bank and the car in front of me was having a really hard time staying between the lines. It waited almost all the way through the green light at one intersection and then puttered along a 35 MPH road at a screaming 20. Even at that hyper-cautious velocity it managed to nearly rear-end the car in front when that car stopped to make a left turn and sat at a 3-way intersection allowing everyone in sight to go through for several cycles before a gentle beep from the horn of one of the people following inspired movement.
Drunk? Talking on cell phone? Nope - just too busy trying to eat an ice cream cone to properly manage the car! It did, however, get me thinking about distracted drivers and especially distracted drivers and cell phones.
A couple years ago I did some casual research (OK, I stood on a street corner and counted for 15 minutes or so) and found that about one in 10 drivers was talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving. Others have claimed that it was a lot higher where they were, but few had ever actually tried to count and see. That was before all the hands-free laws and about the time that groups were claiming that a driver talking on a cell phone was more dangerous than a drunk driver. The funny thing is, though, that the accident statistics never really bore out the claim. The rather small up-tick in minor accidents was pretty hard to pin on the cell phones and there just wasn't the huge increase in wrecks you would expect if 10% of the drivers were actually driving drunk. The hands-free laws were mostly passed on the basis of lab-type research and common sense, which surely tells us that holding something in one hand while driving doesn't improve your driving in any way, shape or form. The funny thing is that it seems to me that the people I now see driving while talking on a hand-held cell phone really are driving like they are drunk. I doubt that I see even one in 50 any more, but it seems that the ones who still do it are the very ones who never should have.
The sorrowing realization is that there are certain people who probably just plain drive like they've been lobotomized - regardless of whether they are distracted or not. These also seem to, unfortunately, be the same ones who think that they drive just fine while talking on the phone, putting on makeup, reading the newspaper, answering texts, changing CDs, programming their GPS, slapping their kids or even while eating an ice cream cone. Not only can't you fix stupid, but you can't fix bad drivers either.