(Law)Breaking in the New Year
Ban on reading while driving makes me an outlaw
By Jennifer Hadley 01/15/2009
Two weeks into the New Year and I’ve already broken one resolution — to stop texting while driving. Oh, wait, that wasn’t just a resolution that I broke. That’s the law, one that I’ve broken multiple times. In fact, if were I cited for each incident thus far, I’d probably be out about a hundred bucks, assuming I was fined the minimum $20 for each offense. But the thing is, I’m not even sending text messages..
I have obeyed the law in resisting the urge to forward naughty cartoon emails to friends while driving. I’ve also refrained from replying “LOL!” to stupid jokes I receive while driving, but these acts of restraint have nothing to do with the new law. They have to do with the fact that I can barely walk and text at the same time, let alone drive and text. It’s good to know your own limitations.
All the same, I am breaking the new law, as it prohibits the composing, sending or reading of texts and emails while driving. That is, it’s not just a ban on texting. In my case, it’s the ban on reading messages while driving that has pushed me over the line from law-abider to lawbreaker in 2009. Indeed, I shamelessly admit that I have not stopped reading emails and texts that arrive on my Blackberry while I’m driving. But I have a good reason to continue reading messages while I’m driving; I just can’t help myself.
I am, in short, a voracious reader. I read everything. If you’re working on a spreadsheet, it will not matter to me that I’m standing in front of your desk, thereby making the spreadsheet upside down; I’ll still read it. It’s not something that I do intentionally; it’s instinctual — and even being behind the wheel can’t suppress my instincts.
I read every street sign. I read every bumper sticker. I read license plates (and then work on deciphering vanity plates). I read the highway alerts, I read the construction alerts and I read the speed monitors that show just how fast everyone around me is traveling. That’s to say nothing of picket signs, graffiti and my favorite, the fancy new billboards that change every 30 seconds, creating ever more words for me to read while driving. So when my phone vibrates in the cup holder to my right, I can’t help myself. My hand automatically goes for the phone, and I just have to read the message.
To date, I have not caused an accident because I was reading instead of watching the road. However, if this ever does happen, I doubt the screen in my palm would be the culprit. More likely, it would happen because the guy’s bumper sticker in front of me was in such small type that I had to creep all the way up on his rear end to read it. Or it might be caused by a picketer’s sign scribbled so illegibly I have to spend a few extra seconds figuring out what it says. But I doubt looking at a quick note two inches from my face is going to cause me to crash.
I’m not saying the new law is entirely stupid. I do think it will probably prevent a lot of people from being distracted behind the wheel. But what about people like me? People who can’t seem to stop reading, no matter where the words are written?
I suppose that admitting my problem is the first step. So I admit it, as I sit here in my hot new pink T-shirt, a Christmas gift from a dear friend that declares “Reading Is Sexy.” I do have a problem. I am a compulsive reader. And with that, I’ll leave it up to the doctors to diagnose this as a real medical condition, so that I’m exempt from the ban on reading messages while driving.
In the meantime, beware of the girl in the Xterra complete with a matching “Reading Is Sexy” bumper sticker, because you can bet your bottom dollar I’m peering out my window, reading over your shoulder the text message you’re composing.
Contact Jennifer Hadley at firstname.lastname@example.org.