Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ricardo Velasquez.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ricardo Velasquez.

The ordinance banning the use of hand-held mobile devices while behind the wheel of a motor vehicle goes into effect on Jan. 1. We can now rejoice and return to the good ol’ days of life before those irritating cellphones. Even though in municipalities across the county the ban on hand-held mobile devices while driving has not led to a reduction in accidents, this new broader ban will at least ignite a sense of nostalgia.

If you’re under the age of 30, the term “gas station map” may mean nothing to you. In fact, an actual paper map might be foreign to you as well. Once upon a time, these “gas station maps” were a staple item in every car. We used to undo the 24 folds and drape the map over the steering wheel. Since San Antonio is a fairly large city, the print, of course, was incredibly tiny. You had to refer to the index of street names on the back side of the map, match up the coordinates, and locate your destination under the faint glow of your overhead light, which always annoyed the hell out of the driver behind you.

Once you located your destination on the map and committed the image of it to your photographic memory, you had to attempt the impossible task of refolding the map while maintaining one hand on the wheel. Those were fun times. Now, this may not be the best or safest method of navigating our roads, but it is the legal option. It may also improve your dexterity, enhancing your ability to multitask.

Another thing I’m looking forward to is dusting off that big CD case that holds 250 of my favorite CDs, that same case that has gone unsold in my last 10 garage sales. Now, since I can no longer rely on the music library on my phone, I have a legal alternative. There’s nothing like cruising down the highway while flipping through page after page of CDs to find the perfect Led Zeppelin album to fit the mood of the day.

I also have a new use for those pocket calendars that my bank always sends me every year for Christmas. For the last few years I thought their gesture was basically saying, “We care about your business so much that we’re going to give you something utterly useless to show our appreciation.” Now I realize that these banks must have seen this city ordinance coming. No more looking at my phone calendar to see what appointments I’m running late for. Now, as I’m finding my destination, using my photographic memory of the 24-fold map, I can flip through that pocket-sized calendar to see what I’ve scribbled between the narrow, dotted lines.

Have you ever had a good idea? I had a good one the other day while I was driving home after a long day of work. What if I write about the ramifications of the Hand’s Free City Ordinance! Yeah! Maybe I should practice, I thought. Instead of using my phone’s voice memo feature to record my inspired ideas, I could do it the old-fashioned way. Pen and paper. I had to balance the notepad carefully on the wheel without pressing pen to paper too hard because that would honk my horn and startle the driver of the Mercedes in front of me. Anyway, I got as far as “So now the ordinance banning the use of…” before I had to stop and look for another piece of paper, namely my insurance card that I exchanged with the driver of the Mercedes I had just rear-ended. In retrospect, using pen and paper was not as convenient as the voice memo option, but hey, you know the refrain: it’s the legal option.

Some of you may not feel the firm tug of nostalgia. There are some of you who might not know what a “gas station map” is, or who may not be able to find one, or others who sold your CDs for pennies after converting your library to MP3s for your mobile phone, or others who cannot read their own writing when they jot down a brilliant idea. To these people, do not worry. There is one more option. For $15 you can buy a mobile phone arm that inserts into your car’s CD slot that you probably thought you’d never use again.

The thing about the new City ordinance is that it only applies to hand-held mobile devices. If your phone is affixed to your car, your activity (other than texting) is no longer prohibited. As long as your phone is attached, you can watch every episode of The Walking Dead while acting out Dead Man Driving. It’s actually legal because the ordinance does not apply to a device “that is affixed to the vehicle and used as a global positioning or navigation system.”

Most smart phones are continually operating as a global positioning system whether the navigation application is open or not. And for $5 you can buy an attachment that affixes your phone to your steering wheel, although if you get into an accident and your air bag deploys, you may have an Apple logo permanently branded onto your forehead. It’s a step up from where we are now with drivers “hiding” their phones from law enforcement by staring at the tiny screen in their lap.

The point is, we’ve always been distracted. Technology confined our distraction to one device. Unfortunately, driving is one of the most mindless, mundane things we do. We drive the same way to work or school every day of the year. 99.9% of the time the journey is uneventful, boring. We’ve always looked for ways to fill our minds with something other than the task at hand. The fact that we do this is a reflection on how safe driving has become. I’m sure drivers in New Delhi, where there are more than a dozen traffic fatalities every hour, the drivers do not text and drive. Driving is too dangerous and stressful to risk diverting their attention.

So, I suppose the most efficient way of cutting texting and driving is to make driving so perilous that no one would consider diverting their attention from the road. The only way to do this effectively is to have everyone text and drive so that cars would be swerving wildly about their lanes creating a possible collision at every moment. No one would text and drive as long as everyone is texting and driving. (Readers can get a contrary view on the Rivard Report by reading Hands on the Wheel, Cellphone Down!)

I imagine this new ordinance will bring new perils, but isn’t that the City Council’s job? What would they have to do without creating invigorating problems to solve?

*Featured/top image: Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ricardo Velasquez.

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