Friday, October 2, 2009

Just Another Bowl of Oatmeal

Mindlessly surfing the net, I came across a story that quoted the Secretary of Transportation's harangue about distracted drivers. He promised action! The administration is on it! No more texting while driving on this guy's watch. Etc.

Uh huh.

If I had a nickel for every accident I've investigated that resulted from distraction I wouldn't be dragging my dumb old ass to work at five every morning. I'd be sitting on a beach.

Distracted driving takes every form known to humankind. One of our officers was looking at an attractive jogger one sunny afternoon and plowed into the car in front of him. Spilled drinks, kids fighting, dogs, radios, CD's.... If a driver can think about it while driving, it has distracted someone enough to cause a wreck. So I understand the problem. Sign me up to be part of the solution.

But the Feds have no police powers over this kind of thing. Who's gonna enforce the Secretary's demand for action, the FBI? Special no texting police? Even if it was constitutional - it probably is not - the Feds would have to invent someone to write the tickets. Not that this group has much trouble doing that, but they already have someone out there. Me and mine.

If they do anything but talk, they will take a classic carrot and stick approach. They withhold highway dollars if a state doesn't hit some nonsensical target number of texting tickets, and then offer us thousands of borrowed dollars to set up checkpoints, to have officers come in on OT and other gimmicks that put numbers on the board but accomplish nothing longterm, sort of like a spring training game.

It's like the seatbelt campaign every year. No one argues that seat belts save lives. But - you'd be amazed how many people put their seatbelts on only when they perceive that the middle-aged man on the mountain bike is a uniformed police officer. That's after years of enforcement.

People will multi-task. It just is. When I was just starting my career in the late Seventies, I heard a sheriff's deputy tell a story. He was driving a marked patrol car one morning, minding his own business, and someone broadsided him. Plowed right into him. He got out to see if the other driver was hurt and saw all kinds of goo on the windshield. Figuring that the driver had hurled all over the car, he opened the door slowly.

It was oatmeal. The young driver had looked down into the bowl for another spoonful and...

I get it. When I see a driver texting I pull them over and write them a ticket. The Secretary of Transportation must have bigger fish to fry. He doesn't have to get into the weeds with us about distracted driving. We're the ones who see the accidents, the hurt and dead people, the destructive power of a motor vehicle. You had me at hello.

But you're arriving at a party that I've attended for years. Hey - thanks for your input. I'm doing the best I can balancing the needs of my community with the resources I have. Don't throw borrowed money at me so you can announce "mission accomplished" with a fistful of texting tickets. Not everything is solved when Washington suddenly discovers a problem and mandates solutions. To those guys, it's an epiphany. A crisis. Mobilize the power of the government.

To me, it's just another bowl of oatmeal.

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