Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Everyone thinks they can drive fine even while fiddling with the CD player, text messaging a spouse, talking on the phone, adjusting the air conditioner — all while eating a double bean burrito, hold the sour cream. I have news for you, bucko. I’m the only person who can pull that off. The rest of you knuckleheads are a menace to the highways and byways of America.

Well, OK, maybe I shouldn’t be doing it either. Despite the fact that I’m an excellent driver (bet one for good, two for bad), I should devote my full attention while driving. Here’s my advice: Listen to the entire album without skipping a song, talk to your spouse face-to-face, roll down the window, and, for the love of all that is good and wholesome in the world, save the burrito for when you get home.

I read a story recently in USA Today titled, “New hazard: Driving while wired,” and it basically focused on how some states are working on legislation to limit the use of car electronics beyond just cell phones. For instance, in Arizona, it’s legal to play video games while driving. So don’t worry about notifying the police the next time you’re visiting the Grand Canyon and see a guy strumming away to “Guitar Hero” on his PlayStation while cruising along at 70 mph. Relax. It’s all legal. Besides, if our intrepid Hendrix-wannabe had to take his attention away from the game to watch the road, it might adversely affect his rendition of “Spanish Castle Magic.” No one wants that.

I’m exaggerating, of course, but in all seriousness I can understand why legislators want to look at this. It’s a zeitgeist issue. Cell phones and other mobile electronic gizmos really haven’t been around all that long, but their popularity has exploded in recent years. Ads for do-everything gadgets like iPhones are everywhere. Some cars come with DVD players as standard equipment. The good ol’ days are long gone, and our society is becoming more and more tied to electronics every day. The problem is that when you add a two-ton vehicle traveling at 60 mph into the equation, the use of electronics can take a not-so-trivial and potentially deadly turn.

That being said, it seems like a bit of a slippery slope. Where do we draw the line? If text messaging while driving becomes a finable offense, perhaps the next statute should outlaw a woman driver from applying mascara in her rearview mirror. I, for one, always apply my mascara before I leave the house, but that’s me. Should I be allowed to eat a taco while I drive? Maybe that’s too messy. How about a cheeseburger? Is that OK? No? Can I sip Diet Coke behind the wheel? I could miss my mouth and pour it down my shirt (yes, it’s happened). Would a lollipop be too distracting? It might depend on if it had a chewy center, like a Blow Pop or a Tootsie Pop.

I can hear the distinguished gentleman from the 23th District now: “Mr. Speaker, I propose we initiate legislation to prohibit all in-car dining, apart from solid-candy lollipops. Pops of the Blow and/or Tootsie variety will no longer be permitted.”

My point is this: We all know people who can barely chew gum and carry on a conversation at the same time. They’re the ones — not me and certainly not you — who are going to rear-end someone while changing the radio station. Is an in-dash TV an inherent distraction? Of course it is. For the gum-chewing daydreams of the world, it’s a really, really bad idea. In fact, it’s a really, really bad idea for even the best multi-tasker. But I wonder where the legislation prohibiting state-defined distractions stops.

I, for one, would like to see police officers spend more of their time enforcing the laws that are already on the books, like stopping speeders, reckless drivers and drunk drivers. I can’t play Pac-Man while driving, but I certainly can eat a double bean burrito behind the wheel — sour cream included.

David Spates is a Knoxville resident and Crossville Chronicle contributor whose column is published each Tuesday. He can be reached at davespates@tds.net.

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