Driven beyond distraction

Posted: November 13, 2009

Texting while driving is, as Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the media have taken to pointing out constantly, a terrible scourge. Despite extreme enforcement difficulties, state legislatures are rushing to ban the practice. But they might want to broaden their focus.

Driving while toddled should certainly be felonious. Few things are more distracting than a screaming toddler in the back seat, except perhaps two or three. You're constantly turning around and yelling, or pretending you're going to stop the car right there and not go to Grandma's at all.

Indeed, Grandma herself is distracting, and so is everyone else, for that matter. Like all of you, I would support a ban on any vehicle carrying more than one person.

Eating, trying to open a pack of chewing gum, changing radio stations, driving with your hand on someone's knee, etc.: Surely these are terrible crimes that have cost untold lives.

Cities bristle with distractions: bike messengers, construction workers, pedestrians, traffic signals, and particularly excellent or surprising architecture. On these and many other grounds, cities should certainly be banned.

If the scientists are wondering where to go after they're done with texting, they might study the distracting power of hip-hop vs. country vs. Romantic-era choral music, and the extreme danger of singing along with any of them.

I have been distracted many times by emergency vehicles coming up behind me with screaming sirens and flashing lights. I try to ignore them entirely and concentrate on driving just the way I was before. There ought to be a law.

Police officers sitting on the shoulder with radar guns are ridiculously distracting. The police should concentrate on enforcing a ban on themselves.

Seat belts are distracting, as are all those lights and buzzers telling you your doors are open, your tires are flat, and your belt is unbuckled. Windshield wipers are distracting, especially when they're not in rhythm with the hip-hop you're rapping to.

Indeed, weather itself is profoundly distracting, as is terrain. It might be a challenge to enforce a law against terrain, but, as Americans, we dream big. No one ever said saving lives was easy.

Notably pretty people in other cars - and for that matter notably ugly people - are distracting, and they must be prohibited with all the awesome majesty of law.

The Nissan Cube is distracting because it looks funny, especially in green. In fact, other cars are extremely distracting, as are animals and other organisms. Destroying them all could save many lives; I would suggest napalm or Agent Orange.

Few things are more distracting than being in love, which should obviously be subject to severe sanctions.

Now, you might be thinking that the slope down which we're skidding is awfully slippery, and that we shouldn't even start. You might think that no one really wants to crash, and if there is good evidence that texting or talking on a cell phone while driving is dangerous, people will control their own behavior.

I find your naivete charming. As George Washington famously said to Congress, or perhaps to his slaves, American patriots understand that real change can only be accomplished by thorough and pervasive coercion.

Crispin Sartwell teaches philosophy at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. He can be reached at

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