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It’s time to hang up on distracted driving

There’s an old episode of the Andy Griffith Show that often springs to mind where Deputy Barney Fife, played by West Virginia’s own Don Knotts, makes a U-turn with his squad car in the middle of a downtown Mayberry street and prompts Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors), who’d just received a citation for his own U-turn, to give chase on foot, hollering “Citizen’s arrest! Citizen’s arrest!”

I love this scene if for no other reason than it gives me a model to follow if I were ever to act on my impulses to mete out blacktop justice for every offense I witnessed from behind the steering wheel.

(Mind you, this is coming from a judge who managed to have car wrecks just about every other year back in the ’80s — including hitting a house. This may explain why I’m a more chastened, cautious driver now, despite what my wife might think.)

I’ve been thinking of good ol’ Gomer a little more these days because it’s been just over a year since the state’s distracted driving legislation became law.

Boiled down, it made using handheld phones and texting a primary offense, meaning the police can pull you over if they spy you engaged in these activities while driving. And if you’re a new driver, you can’t even be using a hands-free phone.

If you’re like me, you probably haven’t gotten around to shelling out for that Bluetooth earpiece, so you’re probably “riding dirty,” as the young people might put it, and taking that risk to use your phone while you drive.

Me? I don’t make calls while on the road. Smart phones being the way they are, that’s too much thumbing around for the app, then searching contacts just to make the call. A lot can happen in those 10 seconds. Then there’s the matter of holding that silicon brick to your head while executing lane changes and turns. And then there’s conversation. That’s a lot of effort I’m not willing to make in city driving.

Now in the matter of receiving calls, I don’t get that many in general, and in my daily drives in and around town, chances are they’re from my wife — and you know I’m going to have to take those.

My cheat is putting her on speaker and talking into the air. It’s not ideal, but at least I’ve got both hands on the wheel.

And texting? Forget about it.

Come to think about it, though, unless I’m on long stretches of interstate or familiar with where I’m going, even just talking to someone in the car can be a distraction. (I can’t tell you how many exits I’ve missed while conversing on road trips.)

Then there’s the eating while driving. No double deckers, not a lot of condiments. I’ve found the ideal road sandwich is the Tudor’s Biscuit World Golden Eagle, which puts a hash brown patty right in the Canadian bacon, egg and cheese biscuit, so you get everything in one bite. A cup of coffee and you’re good for that trip to Morgantown.

But that’s highway driving, not a lot of stopping and starting, no sidewalks with pedestrians, no lost motorists straining to read street signs or impatient commuters suddenly switching lanes at full throttle. City driving requires your full attention.

That’s why I feel like hollering “Citizen’s arrest!” from my car window when I see drivers press their phones to their ears and leverage their steering wheels into long, loping turns at busy intersections.

That’s probably why my wife would’ve liked to cry “Citizen’s arrest!” at the lady riding her tail and alternately leapfrogging and tailgating vehicles down Corridor G and onto the South Side Bridge engaged in apparently urgent conversation.

And my kind-hearted friend probably would’ve wanted to yell it, too, after getting rear-ended by someone who accelerated before looking up from her phone, but he’d be too nice.

So as much as we civilians would like to lay down that law, we’re going to have to depend on our men and women in blue to enforce it.

The law may not catch them all, but I hope it will help put a few distracted drivers on hold.

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