The last two Gridlock Guy columns galvanized plenty of reaction. Two weeks ago, I talked about how becoming hands-free behind the wheel can produce its own, new distractions. And then I covered the mess surrounding two different Peachtree Road closures near 26th Street this summer. People are passionate about helping others and about their commutes and I want to address a couple of comments. I love the passion.
First, some readers suggested that my saying the new law is distracting lumps me in the same chorus of dissenters who opposed the Hands Free Georgia Act. That simply isn’t true. I think those that presumed my being against the law only read the headline of the piece. I wrote a whole month’s worth of Gridlock Guys consecutively explaining the law and advocating that people obey it. The WSB Traffic Team and I did several talk shows with bill sponsor Rep. John Carson and other officials and experts to explain the rules changes. But the headline, which I composed, can be deceiving out of context.
Really, the goal of that piece is to warn anyone trying to become hands-free behind the wheel of several things. First, getting legal can produce a level of comfort that suddenly justifies other distracting behavior. Second, even legal actions on mobile devices or infotainment systems in vehicle dashboards are still distracting. And finally, implementing the hands-free technology itself can become an entirely new distraction.
None of this is to say that the law is bad. In fact, just writing it was a reset moment for me about how important staying focused on driving is.
Several other readers also sent in emails saying that all of the problems with new distractions would be moot if people simply just didn’t engage their phones at all while driving. They suggested throwing the phone in the glove box, tossing it in the backseat, or turning it off. These actions would be effective, but they aren’t realistic. The toothpaste is far outside of the tube and can’t get back in there. People are going to use their phones and drive; they have for many years. So the goal is limiting that use and the new hands-free law places a definitive line to help enforce the law: holding the phone. If police can enforce texting better, they can help curb the most dangerous thing people do on phones.
Banning phones completely just would not work. Cars are becoming more advanced with integrating devices. And Georgia lawmakers even had to water down the newest law. Remember, the original Hands-Free Georgia Act was to limit touching phones to one swipe or one touch to answer. They had to settle on allowing all types of phone call-use, as long as the phones aren’t being held.
Outside of the driver’s seat, the big Peachtree Road/southbound double-lane closure in Buckhead elicited plenty of letters from our readers. Most comments echoed my points on the absolute lack of coordination and effort to speed up the repair. The City of Atlanta Department of Water Management emailed me well after my writing deadline to say that cement from a project got accidentally poured into the sewer and then hardened. That is why they had to replace the sewer line. But they did not explain why workers weren’t working longer hours to fix it, if the repair in June caused the problem in August, or why there was great communication on the first closure but very little on the second occurence.
Both subjects of the last two Gridlock Guy columns should be reminders that both drivers and the government have domain on how our commutes go. We have a responsibility to drive safely and respect others and the recipients of our taxes have the duty of performing their jobs efficiently and with the goal of keeping the traffic moving. Both sides could do much better.
Regardless of the tone, hearing from all of you is one of the biggest benefits of writing this column. Keep the notes coming and I will do my best to respond. Thanks for reading and please keep turning here and tuning to Triple Team Traffic on News 95.5/AM750 WSB and Channel 2 Action News every day.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.