Look at all the cars surrounding you on the road, and behold a sea of downturned faces tippity-tapping precious information into their little electric obelisks, the pavement ahead of them a seeming afterthought. This is why Washington state very recently instituted the new distracted-driving law, which likely many people found out about while skimming their phones’ news feed in the car.
There are simply too many motorists out there not paying attention. I'm driving and texting this article to my editor right now.
The new law strictly prohibits handheld cell phone use while operating a horseless-sleigh. You can't text, take pictures, or play video games, basically all the fun things that are possible with a phone. You definitely can't use your phone to drive the car from the backseat like Pierce Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies, and you're not allowed to look at a GPS map for an extended period of time, even if you missed the turn because of texting.
Any of the above infractions will get you slapped with a $136 ticket. Local police are supposed to ease drivers into the law by issuing warnings and handing out educational cards for the next few months. If you collect all five cards you get a free foot-long sandwich, or a $136 fine; I can't remember.
Here's the harshest part of the law: You can't do any of this stuff even if you’re stopped at a red light. That one hurts. So what if I'm holding up traffic because my friend can't remember the drummer's name from The Walkmen? People need to know these things right away, and I always put the phone down when I (eventually) hit the gas. Basically, I'm getting fined for being annoying. Fair enough.
Perhaps you think you're good at texting while driving and that this law is silly, but look at it this way: Would you ever text while playing Mario Kart? Exactly. I've won multiple Mushroom Cups for a reason.
While the entire law feels like a ruse being pushed by the hands-free device industry, there's a slight restriction there as well, which brings us to the law’s silliest phrasing. You're allowed to use the radio or turn on your smartphone if it's mounted in a dashboard cradle, but the law only permits “minimal use of a finger.” That's what my girlfriend says when I—nevermind. Get your head out of the gutter.
The only time you're allowed to use your phone is during an emergency (like you just got into a car crash for texting), or by pulling off the road where the vehicle “can safely remain stationary,” like in an Arby's drive-thru. It's not clear if the city will construct designated texting zones on the sides of roads. Maybe that's what those parklets will be used for.
Of course, phones aren't the only way to distract yourself in a car, which is why the law also prohibits grooming and eating, or grooming something that you're about to eat. I don't enjoy onions on my burger, for instance, and now I’m not allowed to remove them (or even eat the burger) while driving.
The law is probably a good thing, but I wonder if the police have considered the consequences. There are countless friendships only maintained by car communication from people using their buddies to distract themselves during commutes. And yes, lives are lost every year from texting while driving. How many lives would be lost, though, if those texts weren’t sent? Surely some of them saved a life. Ben Affleck stopped a nuclear war in The Sum of All Fears by texting while on the road.
Mainly, I'm concerned that people will begin purchasing hands-free devices en masse, and then use them while walking, too, which means now everyone is going to look like a jackass.