Confessions of a texting-while-driving addict

March 29, 2009|By Dan Rodricks

Attention, Maryland adults who TWD - the solons are sending the cops for us. It's going to be bad out there. If a cop stops you for writing and sending text messages on your wireless while operating a motor vehicle, you could have to pay a $500 fine. For the most degenerate, hard-core addicts of TWD, this could be expensive, if not traumatic.

Trust me, I know what I'm talking about here.

The Maryland Senate voted a couple of weeks ago to make TWD a misdemeanor for adults. (TWD is already prohibited for drivers under 18 with learner's permits or provisional licenses.) It would be a primary offense, too, meaning police would be authorized to pull us over solely on "suspicion of texting."

The bill received overwhelming approval, without much public backlash. Why did few, if any, grown-ups come forward to protest the effort to strip us of this freedom?

They're too embarrassed to admit that they TWD, that's why. There's a constituency for the right to TWD, but the constituents don't want to go public.

I understand this. My name is Dan. I am a TWD addict. There, I said it.

I picked this habit up from my children. I don't blame them for much - OK, maybe the broken windows in the garage doors - but I blame them for this. They showed me how to send text messages.

And I liked it. I got good at it, fast and clean and clear with my messages.

I can now tap out certain words and phrases without, for the most part, looking at the tiny keypad in my hand. I've even started to practice sending text messages while holding my cell phone under my desk. When I saw Matt Damon, in The Departed, navigate menus and tap out a text message on the cell phone in the pocket of his topcoat, I thought: That's going to be me someday.

So, I've been practicing. But I'm not quite there yet. I can't write a complete message without looking at the hand-held.

And yet I do it while driving. Shocking, isn't it?

I don't blame my kids for this part. This part's on me. I'm a product of the fantastic and infernal Information Age, and a victim of its insidiousness. Like a lot of adults, I think I can multi-task without consequences. At home, I can cook dinner and hit the computer and talk on the phone, and I think I have only burned the garlic bread twice in 20 years. I can send updates to Facebook and drop a note on Twitter, check my e-mail, send a text message to my son, listen to the radio, read the foreword to a nonfiction book, all in the space of about 15 or 20 minutes, no problem.

So all this transfers to the motor vehicle - cell phone, text-messaging, radio and sometimes even the garlic bread.

As technology advances, we adapt to it and become skilled at using all the fine utensils of the Information Age. We evolve. And just as we evolve, they want to take our tools away, for our own good. It's not fair.

But there's another reason why so few grown-ups came forward to protest state Sen. Norman R. Stone's Del. John Arnick Electronic Communications Traffic Safety Act. (He named the anti-TWD bill after the late legislator who for years crusaded in Annapolis for a ban on cell phone use while driving.) And that other reason is this: It's the right thing to do.

I know I shouldn't TWD. A lot of grown-ups reading this right now know it as well.

We're all going to have to resist hitting the reply key when text messages arrive in the car. We just shouldn't do it. We probably shouldn't be holding cell phones to the ear, either. Or eating garlic bread. I wish the state would offer a 12-step program, but in this economy, with so many budget cuts, looks like we're on our own.

Anyone who wants to start a group, give me a call.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Sundays on this page and Tuesdays in the news pages. He is host of the midday talk show on WYPR-FM.

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