For those of you just now catching glimpses on your television sets of Texas Governor Rick Perry, and listening to assorted people talk about his viability as a presidential candidate, not to mention his coif, here's a little peek from within state lines.
This one peek should be enough. Late last week, Perry vetoed a measure passed in the state legislature that would make it illegal to send and read text messages while driving. He said that the bill "micro-managed" people's behavior.
I don't really need to say much more about this. No one needs to be convinced that fiddling with cell phones when you are driving 75 miles an hour decreases safety on the road. No one needs to hear the statistics on traffic fatalities involving cell phones (they account for 20 percent of traffic deaths nationwide, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). No one needs to write his state representative. People here already have. (The bill passed the house, 124-16.)
What is so offensive about Perry's decision is not simply that it is irrational, ill-informed and presumptuous in its ignorance. It, his failure to protect my family, and me, diminishes our peace of mind, and our chances of returning home unscathed after driving in our car. Perry's veto is abhorrent, and should be punishable. It is akin to repealing drunk-driving and seat belt laws. Don't those restrictions restrict people's behavior?
My older daughter will turn 16 in November. She is scheduled to begin driver's education classes at the end of August. House Bill 242 would have gone into effect on September 1. I would have felt a lot better about putting her in the driver's seat had the law been in place. Going to jail and paying fines are effective deterrents.
I haven't met any parent who isn't naturally nervous about this rite of passage. Mine were anxious, even when car radios were the only dashboard devices to navigate.
My daughter knows that her phone will travel in the trunk. She will learn that driving is less about stepping on the gas than watching out for drivers who weave, or speed up at yellow lights or push you from a foot behind because they are impatient. Here, people are permitted to talk on the phone without using an earpiece. They drive with one hand. The other day, I saw someone with a phone in one and a cup in the other. She must have been steering with her elbow. Or willing her car to move, telepathically.
My daughter has been told that she will have to look at other drivers to assess their levels of concentration. It is a lot to do, to manage the addictions of others while learning how to read your mirrors, to ease into the next lane. What is so critically important, anyway, that can't wait until a person gets home? Should someone's dinner plans have the right to jeopardize my personal well-being? Or kill me?
Rick Perry thinks so. He thinks that to protect my daughter is to interfere in the life of someone who is doing something unarguably stupid and potentially harmful, to the stupid person and to her. If a motorcycle rider chooses not to wear a helmet (and he can do that in Texas), he is simply being ignorant. He is not increasing the chance that he will have an accident, involving me. He will have the accident or not, with the helmet or without it.
Allowing people to distract themselves behind the wheel tells me that my governor doesn't' care about me, or my daughter, or her sister. Worse, vetoing a bill that more than half of states already have in place sends a clear message--in all caps-- to a selfish minority: GO AHEAD. BE RECKLESS. Permission like this usually makes reckless people even more reckless.
So, the next time Perry pops up on the screen hollering about keeping government off of our backs, I'd like to send a message to the phone in his pocket ... and watch him careen off the podium trying to read it. (HEY RICK, NICE HAIR.)