Put the phone down and drive

I should start with a confession.

I snitched on someone to his employer, not something I would usually want to admit to.

But there were what I would like to call extenuating circumstances.

First, it was a state employee, so I figured it's someone who works for all of us. Also, I was egged on by co-workers, who encouraged me when I explained what happened. I had positive reinforcement.

More important, it was what I consider an especially grievous offense.

I caught a state worker talking on his cell phone while driving, as he cut me off at an intersection in which he should have been yielding the right of way. I had to swerve to avoid an accident. He was so involved with his conversation, I don't think he noticed.

I suspect, but could never prove, it wasn't state business he was talking about.

And then I was driving behind him, stewing a bit, when I noticed the bumper sticker inviting reports and complaints about the driver of the state-owned car, at fleet.ct.gov.

For some reason, people talking on their cell phones while driving is especially irksome to me. I can forgive all kinds of other bad driving behavior, from speeding and lane-weaving to parking lot discourtesies, like taking up two spaces.

But talking with a phone to your ear and driving seems especially self-involved, arrogant and risky for the rest of us. You can usually spot these distracted drivers and their erratic driving from far away.

I don't think Connecticut lawmakers went far enough this year when they voted to raise the fines for driving while using a hand-held phone to $100 for the first offense and $200 for subsequent offenses.

How about suspending licenses? Might that not give the talkers pause?

If someone could invent a laser gun that would permit other drivers to take aim at people's cell phones, zapping them with an electrical charge if they're talking while driving, I would support making those legal and distributing them to everyone.

One commendable element of this year's fine-increase legislation is that it directs 25 percent of the fine to the municipality where the offense occurred.

So let's have at those chatty drivers, officers. See what you can do to improve your town's budget. It seems to me one patrolman could stand on a street corner in New London for a few hours and make back a day's salary.

Encouraged by my colleagues, I did indeed report the chatting state worker who cut me off to fleet.ct.gov.

I can't say that the result was very satisfying.

Many weeks went by before I finally received what looked like a form letter by e-mail, saying that my complaint had been acted on. I had the sense that maybe someone had perhaps told the state employee not to do it again.

It's not like I got to zap his cell phone with a live jolt while he was driving.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Administrative Services, which manages a fleet of 3,500 cars assigned to 100 different state agencies (there's another topic) assured me the complaints are directed to the supervisors of drivers who are cited.

The resulting discipline, if any, is up to the individual agencies and not public record.

The state gets about one complaint a day about state-employee drivers, the administrative services spokesperson said, many of them about speeding, talking on a cell phone or driving recklessly.

The state also sometimes get compliments, for state workers who stop to render roadside assistance, for instance, the spokesperson said.

Not long ago, I was kind of surprised to catch a prominent public official chatting animatedly into a cell phone to his ear while driving. He saw me see him, and the phone went down fast. In fact if I had the zap gun with me I'm not sure I would have had time to hit his phone.

It's hard not to snitch on him here, but I have to do my best not to let it become a habit.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


Loading comments...
Hide Comments