Call me after you hit something

April 28, 2006|By JOEL STEIN | JOEL STEIN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

This isn't about your safety. You can watch Sanjay Gupta on CNN for that. This has absolutely nothing to do with the study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that found 80 percent of crashes happen within three seconds of driver distractions, most of which are phone calls. This is about you boring the crap out of me.

You need to stop calling me from your cell phones while you're driving.

I've seen through your tricks. You're not looking to catch up, or let me know you care, or discuss how my emotional distance is deteriorating the marriage. No, you're looking to kill time.

The thing you don't realize is that I'm not also stuck in traffic with nothing to do. I've got a life to lead, or at least things to look up on Wikipedia. So don't treat me like I'm your Adam Corolla, available to entertain you during drive time. I'm not advocating you use car time as peaceful alone time - you pay good yoga-class money for that. No, go ahead and buy satellite radio, play a book on tape, type BlackBerry messages or even, if it comes to it, listen to Adam Corolla. Just leave me alone.

When you call from the car, you instantly transform from a thoughtful, interesting person into an eighth-grade girl, droning on and on about your day, what TV shows you watch and the lives of friends I don't even know. The only reason we listened for hours on end in eighth grade was that we had nothing else to do because we couldn't drive. Are you starting to understand the terrible irony?

To add to the pain, you interrupt your own inane patter to make a turn or look for an exit - and tell me about it. One does not realize how much attention driving actually takes until one is forced to listen to someone else do it in real time over the phone.

The last time my mother called me when she wasn't driving was 2002. It's gotten to the point where I have a daily 45-minute commute through southern New Jersey too.

And I can't get out of it. Not answering doesn't help because it simply transfers the pain directly to my voice mail. My answering machine has become my mom's Dictaphone. I once got a 4 1/2 -minute message about her dental appointment. I'm pretty sure she has mistakenly left a list of stuff to buy at Costco on there.

I have ceased to serve any purpose in her life besides being a human Rick Dees.

When I try to get out of it by waiting a few hours to call her back at home, she tells me she'll call me back, having brilliantly invented the all-purpose excuse: "Law & Order is on." But we both know she's not going to be calling until she hits Exit 92.

What we need is a function on our phones, kind of like MySpace has, that tells you who else is currently driving. That way, you can increase the possibility of making Paul Haggis' day by crashing into the person you're talking to.

But until Verizon installs my patented Freeway-buddy Technology, let's make a promise that, at least as a start, we'll only place return calls from the car, and that we'll let the other person do most of the talking.

Because as annoying as it is to be stuck on the phone with you while you drive, it's going to be a whole lot worse to have to stay on the line while you file the accident report.

Joel Stein writes a column for the Los Angeles Times.

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