Thu | Dec 12, 2019

Chatting our way to the grave

Published:Monday | July 9, 2012 | 12:00 AM

The Soloist, Contributor

I have hung around journalists long enough to care only about the next big headline; no matter what generates it. Therefore, I am not ashamed to admit that I am waiting with bated breath for a headline that screams: Cellphone-using motorist kills children; make that: kills politician. Perhaps then we will have the legislation making it illegal to drive while yapping away on the phone, or worse yet ... texting! My reason for this is that Jamaican authorities don't take drastic action unless and until catastrophic events precipitate it or it affects one of their own.

I now have one more source of anger as I make my daily commute on our roads. This is because there are more male than female motorists chatting away on the phone and becoming so unaware of everyone and everything around them, they delay traffic, even at the lights. So, as if there were not already too many bad drivers on the roads, the cellphone-using beasts have been unleashed. It leads me to wonder what did we do before these little gadgets sprung up all over the globe?

I should talk. You see, I have three of them, but they don't control me. I decide when and where I use them and to whom I speak. So my personal rules include:

Not returning missed calls, if you really want to speak to me, you will call me back.

Ignoring all 'please call me' requests; if you can't afford the call, don't make it.

Don't beg me for credit, if you can't afford the call, why do you have such an expensive phone?

I don't use phones in church, meetings or seminars etc; duh, it's bad manners.

I don't freak out over missed calls, the worst news I can get via the phone is that someone has died. My view is that the news can wait; I cannot raise the dead. And, if I forget my phone at home, all callers can leave me a message.

As for all the apps, Internet, music etc, I don't need a phone for any other purpose but talking, texting and sending BB messages. Let it wait, no news is that important to me, I never wish to be that plugged in. I'd rather read a book!

As a matter of fact, I rarely keep cellphones turned on at home; persons who don't know my home number don't need to be speaking to me after work hours. Yes, I prefer to be in total control of my talk time. Plus, I do believe talk is cheap, so it should not cost me so much to do it.

But, I digress. Back to the new breed of potential killers on the roads. They drive and text, BB, scroll through address book and become totally lost in a conversation. All this while navigating: 'undertaking' other cellphone users, murderous coaster/mini bus drivers, daredevil motorcyclists, killer JUTC drivers, neurotic public utility drivers, death-defying taxi drivers, and my favourite: young Honda drivers whose motto seems to be, 'Everything else on four wheels should be in my rear-view mirror'!

What takes the cake are drivers with children on-board, many times under age 12, occupying the front seats in the car. All the cabbies I use occasionally, tell me they must drive and talk because they need to be in touch with their passengers and the phone represents business for them. I use the phone while driving, but this is what I do: I pick it up and say, "Driving, will call you back." If I am expecting an important call, I pull off the road and deal with it. If I am heading to the country, I tell the persons likely to call that I will be unavailable for a few hours. That way, I am free to focus on the cellphone users who are accidents waiting to happen.

Witnessed accidents

I have witnessed two accidents involving drivers who lost control while on the road. One crashed into a retaining wall and one ran into the back of the vehicle in front of her! And, on both occasions, I thought, "Serves them right". Every day I see cellphone-using drivers so engrossed in a conversation, they keep the other drivers behind them waiting for minutes before realising that the light has changed or they have the right of way. Or, I will be driving along and traffic slows down because the driver is so absorbed in the conversation, he/she slows down to focus on the phone.

So, until the authorities get their act together with legislation that has some real teeth, I mean the kind of penalties that make us think twice about using the phone while driving, I will just have to get used to watching out for yet another hazard on Jamaican roads. If politicians/lawmakers want my input, here it is: First-time offenders should be charged $10,000 and lose five points; second-time offenders should pay $50,000 and lose six points and third-time offenders should be stripped of their driver's licence for a year. All three categories should be forced to do three months of community work and their picture and offence should be published for all to see during that time.