The Ire Next Time

If you think the recent cell-phone ban for drivers was a discomforting thing, wait till you see what happens next. And new laws will happen, make no mistake. Some of our local intersections are getting so weird and hectic in their competitive frenzy, they are beginning to resemble Turkish wrestling pits.

We all saw what was happening with the drivers on cell phones. Many a bright day I have stood on the Post Road in downtown Westport and watched in grim horror as some speed demon rudely cut off another driver, all the while yakking determinedly into a cell phone. It has become such a local cliché, it barely ranks a mention anymore.

But one of the local observers who saw this happening was Westport’s police chief Alfred Fiore, and he was heartened by the state law that took effect on October 1 banning not just the hand-held phone but the application of makeup whilst at the wheel. (One friend of ours admitted sheepishly she gotten to be quite good at steering with her knees while expertly slapping on makeup and doing her customary 80 mph down I-95.)

“The drivers on the phone were completely focused on the phone call,” Chief Fiore lamented the other day. “They were driving by instinct.”

Fiore is a big man known for his expansive smile. Last year I inadvertently knocked the smile off his face when I buttonholed him at a social event and asked when the heck he was going to put some speed traps up around downtown. My office overlooks Main Street across from Veterans Park and all day long I can see people approach downtown at jarring rates of speed. More than once I have heard that chilling, unmistakable sound of one car whumping into another.

Feel free, of course, to call me a raging hypocrite and thrust into my face the car columns I also write for this magazine, in which I have often cheerfully extolled the spirited whimsy of driving some overpowered brute. It’s all true. I have been car freak ever since I was in a baby stroller. But along with my regard for fine cars comes an appreciation of sound driving habits, and I have to say that I see an ocean of absurdity on the road today. You have, too.

“The cars handle so much better today,” notes Fiore, who is not a car nut. “That old ’62 Mercury Comet our parents drove, it had skinny tires that didn’t hold the road so well — you felt the speed. Power steering was all in your arms.” Most of today’s car, he sighs, can all go so fast, so easily.

Fiore says that the cell-phone law really works and the effect was seen instantly. He admits that his department uses speed traps only a limited basis, and generally in residential areas where there have been complaints. But he knows that people still drive like bats out of hell.

Where could it lead? Hidden cameras at intersections to record violations, followed by automatic ticketing, that’s what. The state presently doesn’t allow for that — but laws can change. And if people don’t change, the laws will.

I find the hidden-camera business an enormously depressing prospect. So I’m asking you, please: Slow down in town. 

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