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Time to hang it up, Q-C
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Time to hang it up, Q-C

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If you haven’t white-knuckled the wheel, you’re not paying attention.

On the way home from work one night last week, the car in the lane next to me on River Drive in Davenport drifted over the center line and into oncoming traffic. I slowed way down to give the impending collision plenty of room.

The car in the oncoming lane also noticed the veering vehicle and swerved out of its way. Accident averted.

Near the Bettendorf border, the driver who nearly caused the wreck wandered into my lane, coming so close to clipping my front bumper that I had to quickly hit the brake. Without bothering to signal, the car then entered the ramp onto the Interstate 74 Bridge, and it was then I could see the driver was on her cellphone.

Though I wasn’t surprised, I was angry.

In fact, it is with no pride whatsoever that I acknowledge a fleeting brush with road rage. I considered stepping on the gas and catching up with the driver long enough to extend an unhappy gesture.

I wanted to scream to her that her phone call was not more important than a life. But what good would that do?

It is less than typical of me to be so charitable, but I had to ask myself a serious question: What if I’ve done the same thing and wasn’t aware of it?

I had to admit it’s possible.

In a conversation Wednesday with Bettendorf Police Chief Phil Redington, another unsettling scenario entered the radar screen: You’re driving and talking on the phone. You arrive at your destination. How much about the drive do you recall? Surely the light at that busy intersection was green, but did you observe your surroundings the way you would if you weren’t on the phone?

How about this? Ever been driving along, talking on your phone, and suddenly realize you are driving in a direction you hadn’t intended? Maybe you were going to the grocery store, but your “auto pilot” took you toward work instead?

The fact is that we give ourselves more credit than we deserve when it comes to our perceived ability to multi-task. Every related study has determined this to be true. Human brains simply are not equipped to fully focus on more than one thing at a time.

Even before I got home on the day I nearly gave chase to what’s-her-name from River Drive, I thought about something that happened a week earlier.

A friend was visiting from California, and I was driving. I was on the phone with my Mom, and my friend suddenly shouted, “Cop!”

I shot her a look and shrugged my shoulders to signal I didn’t know why she was so excited about the presence of a police officer.

When I hung up, she explained: In California, it’s against the law to talk on a hand-held cellphone while driving. If you have your phone to your ear and a cop sees you, you will be ticketed. Period.

In Iowa and Illinois, where our streets sometimes contain snow, ice and pickups as tall as water towers, we can talk on the phone all the way from Cairo to Mason City without fear of law-enforcement interruption.

Think that’s a little worrisome? Not so fast.

In Iowa, a cop can see you driving down the road, texting your little fingers off while you drive, yet there are no grounds for pulling you over. Texting while driving currently is a secondary action, meaning you can be cited for it only if there’s another reason for stopping you.

This would change if the Iowa Legislature approves a measure now under consideration, making texting a primary action. If it happens, the current law would be repealed and texting would be banned outright.

“I would support the law change,” said Lt. Jamie Brown of the Davenport Police Department’s traffic division. “The change would allow us to initiate the traffic stop for a person texting and not have to identify another violation before the stop could be made.

“The change may alter behaviors and make people think twice about texting, which could be the difference between arriving safely or not.”

A couple of factoids: A Bettendorf woman died in a Davenport wreck in 2011, and police determined she was texting when she crossed the center line. Another Quad-City woman admitted she was texting when she lost control of her vehicle near the Spruce Hills exit on I-74 and rolled her car.

Despite the obvious problem, Davenport police have issued only six citations for texting-while-driving since July 2011.

Illinois already bans texting while driving, but lawmakers are getting more serious. A House committee this week endorsed a ban on hand-held cellphones while driving. If it passes, it’ll simply create a demand for hands-free devices.

Californians have been living with the ban since 2008, and I mean that literally.

In the five years since the cellphone ban, the number of deaths and injuries attributable to hand-held phones are down 47 percent.

How about that for something worth talking about?

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.

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