That's a lot of miles, which translates to a lot of hours, especially when you've got 2 youngsters that are pre-disposed to becoming stir-crazy, cranksters with teeny, tiny blatters if we don't stop and get out of the car about every two hours.
To fill their time, they got to watch movie after movie while sipping on cold drinks and lazily snacking on their favorite foods and had the option of reading their favorite books, drawing, playing with their toys and gazing out the window at the ever-changing terrain. I, their unpaid driver, got no such break.
I sat behind the wheel of an over-packed minivan, deftly handing out drinks and snacks and settling sibling quarrels without taking my eyes from the road, listening to my Shania Twain for hours on end rather than mindlessly shuffle through the endless small town radio stations throughout the High Plains, and I drank bottles of water to stay alert for the 8 to 11 hours of driving of each leg of the trip.
What I did not do is talk on the phone. I have found these long summer road trips to be the hardest times to not pick up my phone and start dialing. After all, I'm just sitting there hurdling down long, sometimes lonely stretches of highway. I could be making contact with people, checking things off my lists, etc. Instead, my resolve and my kids kept me honest.
I did see some people talking and driving. They weren't hard to spot. Generally, these drivers weren't using cruise control; they weren't going along at an even speed, but rather slowing down and speeding up at various intervals; they weren't focused on the other cars passing them or coming up behind them; but were instead floating along in bubbles of their own conversations.
Using phones while driving is second nature to many, but any habit can be broken. And that is exactly what drivers in some states will have to do in order to avoid paying higher fines and receiving stiffer penalties. But will hitting drivers in the wallet hurt enough to make a difference?
Well, that is exactly what California, New Jersey and Connecticut are hoping to do with new legislation.
Connecticut has increased fines for drivers using handheld phones and/or texting while driving. The fines for the 1st offense went from $100 to $125; $150 to $250 for the 2nd offense; and $200 to $400 for the 3rd offense and any other ensuing citations.
New Jersey has long been more aggressive than many states in attempting to curtail phone use while driving. In its latest attempt, the NJ Senate Law and Public Safety Committee recently approved a measure that would increase penalties for using handheld phones for talking and/or texting while driving involving raising fines and after 3 violations even suspending the offending driver's license.
California's law bans drivers from using handheld devices while operating a vehicle, but the fine, even the proposed increase, is barely a slap on the wrist with the fine being $10 for a 1st offense and $50 for a 2nd offense at this time and raising the penalty by only $10 to $20 dollars more. That will not stop people from talking and texting!
A few other states have new legislation too. At least one is banning handheld devices and texting for the first time. Idaho's no texting law took effect on July 1st as a primary enforcement offense; meaning that an officer needs no other reason to stop a vehicle if texting is suspected.
But do stricter penalties work? Do those who would break the law and continue to use handheld devices and/or text mind paying fines; or will they continue to use their phones at the risk of taking a hit in the wallet?
I'm not sure what the answer is, but I do know this: dying is a very real possibility if you continue to talk and/or text while driving; and death is a very permanent and harsh penalty to pay for such an unimportant and trivial activity.
Over and out...