A couple weekends ago I was talking on my cell phone while driving. Shocking, I know, that I would blatantly break the law and admit it here.
Here’s what happened.
I was driving our GEM car, which is open on all sides, and talking to my friend on the phone. I pulled up to a stoplight, and glanced at the car beside me in the left turn lane. I thought, “Hey, look! It’s (my friend) Dennis!”
I made a goofy face at “Dennis” in response to what I perceived was his jokey, stern, shaming face related to my being on the phone. I then kind of shrugged, as if to say, “I know, I’m being bad, please forgive me.”
About 30 seconds later, still stopped at the intersection, I saw in my peripheral vision that “Dennis” continued staring and glaring at me. I uncomfortably told my friend on the phone that this light needed to turn green so I could stop being evil-eyed.
As I looked back over, “Dennis” was sort of miming writing something … what is he doing? Writing a pretend ticket? Making a mock citizen’s arrest?
On closer inspection, I realized I didn’t recognize his car, and it dawned on me this wasn’t actually my friend.
In fact, when I got where I was going, I called the real Dennis to ask if he had just seen me driving in the GEM car. Nope, he hadn’t seen me for weeks. I told him the story of his nosy doppelganger and we laughed about his do-gooder evil twin.
But in the days since, I haven’t laughed about it. I’ve found myself wondering why the guy got worked up about this. Was he an off-duty police officer trying to do me a favor and save me from incurring a huge fine? Had somebody he was close to been in a car accident because of a cellphone-talking jerk? Or was he just a busy-body?
I’ve imagined seeing him again and asking, “Why do you care?! Why is this your business? If I want to get a ticket for talking on the phone while driving, that’s my poor choice!”
And, not-Dennis, the real problem is “distracted driving” if you want to aim your punishing glances at the proper audiences. According to AAA Foundation of Traffic Safety:
“Distracted driving contributes to up to 8,000 crashes every single day.
“* More than 1 million people have died in car crashes over the past 25 years in the United States, with 33,788 lives lost in 2010 alone.
“* Using a cell phone while driving quadruples your risk of crashing.
“* Eating, smoking, adjusting music or rubbernecking while driving can be just as dangerous as texting, emailing or talking on a cell phone.
“* Passengers are one of the most frequently reported causes of distraction, with young children being four times more distracting than adults and infants being eight times more distracting.”
So I hope you’re aiming your glares at mothers with infants in the back seat, or people on their way to the bark park with an excited dog romping in the back of the car. They need your helpful shaming, too.
Putting aside the political tirades by various ranters that we live in a nanny state thanks to the government and blah blah blah, I would like to point out to the average “do-gooder” that most adults don’t want unsolicited advice about, well, anything. It bugs the crap out of us. (This includes you, lady who biked by my husband and me and whiningly yelled out “Where are your helmets?” It took all of my self-control to not snottily yell back, “Up your butt!”)
My main point here is to advocate for a friendlier approach, such as when someone flashes his headlights as dusk turns to dark to let you know you need to turn your headlights on. Thank you!
Or maybe you’re on a ski lift when someone starts a conversation with you, asking, “When did you decide to start wearing a helmet? Is it comfortable?” This person is gathering information on whether to start wearing a helmet and is soliciting your opinion. How friendly of you to offer it!
Shaming glares and whiny shout-outs are rarely the way to convert others to your way of doing things.
By the way, I’ve imagined how “Dennis” frothed to his wife about me when he got home. “You wouldn’t believe this reckless, horrible scofflaw I saw at the intersection today. She was — you’re not going to believe this — talking on the phone!” To which his wife shrieked, “You’re kidding! I’ve never seen such a thing!” Sigh.
— Tanya Perez is an associate editor at The Enterprise. Her column publishes every other Thursday. Reach her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @enterprisetanya