Thursday, July 01, 2010

1 JUL 10: Stay in Your Lane

It should have been simple. Really. Back the car out of its parking space, then go forward to leave the shopping center. But what I faced Wednesday afternoon wasn't quite that easy. It was a case of people taking shortcuts, drivers going outside the lines - and reminding me of how popular NASCAR is in the South.

The back-out on the Sidney Simons Boulevard side of The Landings was routine. But as I drove forward, a driver approached at an angle from my left - cutting across empty parking rows as if she'd watched too much World Cup soccer and was about to block my path to the goal.

I wasn't moving very fast, so I stopped at the sight of the driver at an angle. She stopped as well, and motioned for me to go first. No, thank you. If you're going to break the driving rules, I'd rather travel behind you so I can hit the brakes without being rear-ended.

After a moment of waiting, the woman at an angle went ahead. But now, another car was cutting across empty parking rows to my right. What sort of video game had I driven into?

To be fair and evenhanded, I had to let the second car roll in front of me. But amazingly, a third car then came in front of me - again angling across parking rows to my left. Within about three seconds, a fourth vehicle followed the path of car #2. I think that last driver actually had been behind me - and may have been frustrated by my not pushing forward and having a collision in the first place.

My car escaped all this unscathed, as I kept the brakes on and let everyone else go. But I couldn't help marveling over this moment. I was following the marked lines of The Landings parking lot. But with no cars in those spaces, the other drivers didn't care. How much fuel do those drivers waste during summer, mowing their lawns the same way?

Of course, the "creative drivers" might point the finger back at me. They'd say I'm being awfully legalistic and "inside-the-box." I'd rather they use words like "defensive" and "orderly," but they probably wouldn't think of those....

The timing of this incident was interesting, considering the changes in Georgia traffic laws taking effect today. The biggest change is a ban on "texting while driving." People won't be allowed to send messages with their thumbs - but I fear plenty will still do it with (ahem) their middle fingers.

WRBL noted Wednesday night the no-texting policy is in effect, even if you're stopped at a traffic light on the road. Use those red-light moments for something safer - like checking a road map for a faster route to work.

But there's one big loophole in this new Georgia law - as law officers still can text while they drive. Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley says he will NOT allow his deputies to do it. After all, if you're using two hands to text, which hand will hold the two-way radio speaker?

Georgia State Patrol officers admit they will NOT begin tough enforcement of the no-texting rules until August. You can tell the Georgia state agencies which aren't desperate for extra money, can't you?

Another change in Georgia driving rules today bars any use of cell phones by drivers younger than 18. There are safety advantages to this new law -- not to mention the fact that teenagers can focus better on the loud rap tunes on their car stereos.

And after years of debate and controversy, mandatory seat belt use comes to Georgia pickup trucks today. You'll be able to spot the passengers protesting this new law. They'll be sitting in the bed of the truck -- staring you out of any thought of tailgating.

So watch where you're going and what you're doing - and if you must, pull over to read the rest of the Wednesday news items:

+ The high temperature in Columbus was 88 degrees F. - the lowest high in more than three weeks. My home air conditioner was NOT turned on. But sadly, it was NOT cool enough outside to persuade the cockroaches to leave my kitchen.

+ WTVM went along with a dive search team into the Chattahoochee River. The divers found a handgun, a rifle with a scope and a cash register. The Chamber of Commerce would tell you one of those three is much more powerful than the others....

(The team which went on this dive is known as UCI - Underwater Criminal Investigators. With a name like that, you'd think the members would train in, uh, Uchi Creek.)

+ Alabama Transportation officials declared the widening of U.S. 431 throughout Russell County finally will be complete by the end of the year. Perhaps by then, northerners won't be afraid about taking that highway to oil-stained beaches anymore.

+ Alabama gubernatorial candidate Robert Bentley clarified a TV commercial about his military record. He said he served in the Air Force during the Vietnam conflict, but never actually went to Vietnam. If that doesn't gain Bentley an endorsement from former President Bush, I don't know what will.

(Bentley accused Republican runoff opponent Bradley Byrne of bringing up his Vietnam-era record to distract attention from real issues. The Byrne campaign denies that - but I suspect Bentley's aides are looking for old pictures that say, "Byrne Baby Byrne.")

+ The soon-to-open Fresh Market store held an "open house" for job-hunters at the Doubletree Hotel. I'm told some people stood in lines for one hour, then sat in a room waiting for interviews close to two hours -- so I hope this chain doesn't diversify, to become part of national health care.

+ The Patriots topped the Steelers 23-18 in the Columbus Youth Indoor Football League finals. Already the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger is having an impact....

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