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Bless all of our hearts. When did we all lose ourselves and become hateful, angry, argumentative people with no respect...

‘Hands-free Tennessee’ no cure for driving while blind

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Hands-free devices for talking on the phone behind the wheel do little to alleviate “driving while blind.”

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By Mark Rutledge

Monday, July 8, 2019

Hands-free doesn’t sound like a safe way to drive, but it’s the law in Tennessee as of July 1, and North Carolina is not far behind.

Hold a phone to your ear behind the wheel and the highway patrol is liable to contribute something to the conversation.

Up until about five years ago, I rarely even carried a cellphone. But I have conformed to the modern mode of constant accessibility. And the phone is, of course, so much more than a phone.

My phone is where I take notes, pictures and breaks from reality. It’s where I check email, the time, the weather, the temperature and the tuning on my guitar — which I almost never play while driving, by the way.

What I do play while driving are recordings of other people playing music. The phone has become my stereo. My kids recently gave me one of those neat and powerful mobile speakers that can magically channel music downloaded to my smartphone from the internet. I love it, but I might have to give it up during the work commute.

Under the new law — which is good and necessary — I will need to set my music to shuffle, or just play the radio. Otherwise, I must touch my phone in order to adjust the volume or change the song.

Touching the phone while driving is now illegal in Tennessee and many other states.

That seems a bit strange considering that many cars are equipped these days with touch-screen, onboard computers for controlling everything from the radio to GPS navigation systems and even cellphones. I submit that those built-in dashboard touch screens also are dangerously distracting to operate while driving.

Clearly, technology has outpaced our ability to safely utilize it inside a car. For me, this new law requiring a hands-free device for talking on the phone is not much help toward keeping my mind focused on the road ahead.

If I’m talking, I’m blind. Ask my wife.

“Stop talking!” Sharon often barks. “You’re going to miss our turn.”

It’s true. When I’m on the phone, or simply engaging in a little device-free conversation, I have a hard time seeing where I’m going. I see the road and the cars around me fine. And I will react in a timely manner if any of those elements present a hazard.

But I also see, in my mind’s eye, the person I’m talking to or the place or thing or person that they or I might be discussing. What I invariably will not see is the next planned exit or turn.

My first time using the required hands-free Bluetooth speaker driving home from work, I still cruised right past my regular fueling exit and nearly ran out of gas before I made it to the next truck stop.

“Hands-free Tennessee,” is a catchy slogan. How about, “If your lips are moving, make sure the car is not.”

When that law goes into effect, in-car ventriloquism will be all the rage.

Contact Mark Rutledge at mrutledge@reflector.com or like him on Facebook at Mark Rutledge Columns.

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