Pre-Xmas rant: another state bites the dust

Since it’s not actually Christmas, today’s the day for a rant.  I’m calling this “Another state bites the dust.”

Coming back into Delaware this week for an eagerly anticipated visit, I have found myself embarrassed for the state I sort of still call “home.”  There’s a new law, effective Jan. 2 (brilliant! this lets New Year’s Day drunk drivers text and use their phones but penalizes the work world on the first day back to work!) that illegalizes all handheld cell phone use while driving.

Says Rep. Dennis P. Williams, D-Wilmington, a retired lawman, “Why do we need this legislation?  What about a cup of coffee (being a distraction)?  What about a CD player or a radio?”

And I agree wholeheartedly with the thrust of Rep. Williams’s questions.  (I remain proud of my previous, expanded “Letterman list” of reasons not to treat cell phones specially.  Please allow yourself to be amused, angered, or at least impressed by reading this.)  There’s no doubt that some drivers can’t handle doing anything but driving.  Yet I am quite sure that cell phone use will not be the camel’s spine-breaking straw for me.  No, for me, it’s all the thoughts in my head that deserve legislating against.  They will much more likely distract me irretrievably, and having a cell phone available to use could actually help get a thought out of my head, making me more safe.  Anyway, there are far better uses of lawmakers’ time than trying to legislate safety through restrictions of necessary, near-daily functions in our current living patterns.

I think I won’t comment on texting much, except to say that I don’t currently text, and I would probably support some measure of anti-texting laws, especially for younger and less experienced drivers.  I’ve probably logged nearly a half-million miles, having traveled cross-country several times, living and working in various country, and urban, and suburban areas.  I know my driving well enough to know that no silly cell phone law will make a difference for me.  Shoot—I was once talking on my phone while eating a hamburger and driving a standard-transmission car, and I was still plenty alert and defensibly capable enough to avoid a driver who cut me off.

Delaware, I’m glad I don’t live here anymore.  I’m embarrassed for you that you’re the 8th state to enact such legislation.  As more states seem to be biting the dust with such silliness, I’m sure it was inevitable, but I’d have been less ashamed of my home state if it had been 48th or even 38th.

Admittedly, the state’s population has grown by leaps & bounds.  Even I, having returned a couple of times per year for the last ten, was surprised that the numbers have risen so dramatically.  The population I remember as a kid was 550,000; the current census reports 990,000, so there’s no doubt that the roads are more crowded and not as safe as they were.

The population growth probably makes many residents and legislators nervous, and on one hand, I understand that.  80% growth in their adult lives would likely make a lot of 60- and 70-year-old senators feel anxious.  Maybe their creeping, septuagenarian senility led to paranoia and the making of yet another stupid law:  the removal of the little “catch” devices that prop gas pump handles in the “on” position.  Oh, my goodness!  You’ve got to be kidding. . . .  I thought Delaware was at least smarter than New York.  Never had seen this one before moving to the Empire State, which has got to be the most-overrun-with-laws-and-bureaucracy state in the union.  Delaware and New York, at least, have actually made it necessary to hold the pumps on instead of propping them and resting your hands, or warming your hands, or washing the windshield while the gas is dispensed.  The logic of this illogic probably goes something like this:  if we make people hold the pumps with their hands, there will be fewer spills.  But this indeed is illogical, because the same thing happens with every gas pump I’ve ever used, regardless of whether one is holding the pump with one’s hand or depending on the metal catch device: when the level of gas rises to the point of being sensed by the sensor, the automatic shutoff kicks in.  Voila—no more gas coming out.

Now, I should add that one of the two flaws in my Hyundai Tucson’s design is that the tank’s fill path is shaped in such a way as to inhibit the sensor.  The one pumping gas must listen carefully to the pitch of the dispensing in order to stop pumping before a couple of tablespoons spill out onto the paint.  But again, this spillage problem will never be mitigated by a law that eliminates the pump-handle props.

Merry Christmas, senators and representatives.  May someone (in some state somewhere) who has legislative interest and charisma read this blog, and may the next state to travel these unnecessary paths have a “bridge out” sign erected in front, so a 180 is necessary.  And may the Season bring hope and warmth and a sense of eternity that leads to lucidity in the New Year.  Reverse these silly cell phone and gas pump laws, New York and Delaware!

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2 thoughts on “Pre-Xmas rant: another state bites the dust

  1. Rachel 01/22/2011 / 5:42 pm

    “…the same thing happens with every gas pump I’ve ever used, regardless of whether one is holding the pump with one’s hand or depending on the metal catch device: when the level of gas rises to the point of being sensed by the sensor, the automatic shutoff kicks in. Voila—no more gas coming out.”

    Okay so the little “catch” device is convenient. However…while the above statement is true for you, it may not be true for everyone. Hypothetical situation: Someone is pumping his gas and puts the little “catch” on, then goes to wash his windshields or whatever. For some reason, the sensor/automatic shutoff doesn’t work and gas starts spilling on the ground. It continues to spill on the ground until the guy runs back to stop it, realizing that he just spilled gas everywhere, and the fire station ends up being called. IF he had been standing right there, he would have stopped it after just a very small amount had been spilled, saving people a lot of trouble. Actually, that’s a true story, not a hypothetical situation. Maybe it’s a one in a million occurrence, but can’t you see the fireman and the gas station clerk thinking, “If we would just get rid of those stupid catch devices…”?

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    • Brian Casey 01/25/2011 / 8:35 am

      My reply here may strike some as weak. I am concerned about the environment, and no one in his right mind would want to proliferate gasoline spills at the pumps. But you’d have to show me some statistics of the frequency. In all my years of driving, I’ve observed precisely /one /spill such as the one you described.

      Opposite the probability of a spill, consider all the arthritic hands and frigid pump handles and rainy days and bad moods that are connected to having to hold the pump handles during gas dispensing. I stack up the *human *impact next to the /potential /*environmental *impact, and I find the former stack higher in this case. Give me back the catch devices, please, and I’ll promise not to go into the store while the gas is being dispensed, so I could always catch it quickly if it began to spill!

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