I’m sorry if you’re disappointed to find that this post is not related to Bill and Ted’s epic encounter. It is, however, related to a series of events that occurred this past week.
In the course of a conversation among a group of friends, I brought up the recent passage of speed camera legislation here in Chicago. There was the general grumbling about filling city coffers, and then the conversation turned to other traffic law-related frustrations common to drivers in the city. One friend related how she had been driving along, minding her own business behind a police car. After a red light, the policeman stopped and waited through an entire green light. My friend pulled around him at the next green phase at which point he promptly pulled her over.
She was informed that her infraction had been “driving while talking on a cell phone.” In Chicago this is a secondary offense, meaning that you can’t be ticketed for it unless you’ve broken another law in conjuction. As a result, my friend got off without a ticket. As she told the story, you could almost hear her eyes rolling at the massive inconvenience of not talking on her phone while she drove. Just another way for the city to pocket our money.
I had been thinking about this episode over the course of the week when I experienced firsthand why Chicago’s cell phone law is necessary (and doesn’t actually go far enough).
As I was nearing the end of my bike ride home from work, I stopped at a red light. I was on a small side-road waiting to cross Lawrence Avenue. As usual, I started across the intersection as soon as the light turned green. I consider myself a defensive biker – always assessing conditions and on the lookout for potentially dangerous situations from other cars. In this particular case, all lanes of traffic were stopped at the intersection (the light had been red for a solid 2-3 seconds).
As I got about halfway across, a red SUV ran straight through the intersection from the unblocked far lane. The driver noticed her mistake as soon as she entered the intersection and slammed on the brakes, skidding through the intersection, and then continued on her way, hopefully troubled by her absolute incompetence.
I had enough time to look the driver squarely in the eyes as she passed (fortunately, I had not proceeded far enough that I was in any real danger). If only I could figure out how to shoot daggers out of them… The most aggravating part of the encounter was seeing the cell phone up against the driver’s ear as she looked at me, first bewildered and then panicky. How an otherwise functioning adult could fail to see a red light that had been red for several seconds, and also fail to notice the line of cars in the adjacent lane already stopped and waiting at the light, is a feat of sheer idiocy.
Study after study has shown that there is a substantial degradation in driver performance while talking on cell phones. To my knowledge, the effect is true of both regular phones and the hands-free variety. We don’t accept drunkenness as an excuse for dangerous driving; why does society seem to accept similar impairment from cell phone usage?