Driving Under the Influence of Kids

Oprah’s latest soapbox is keeping people from texting and talking on the phone while driving.  And the National Distracted Driving summit was held in Washington, DC, a few months ago.  In a speech, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “Texting, using hand-held and hands-free cell phones, talking to passengers, and even programming your GPS while driving can be life-threatening distractions on the road.”

In addition, Senator Charles Schumer of New York introduced the ALERT Driving Bill in Congress.  ALERT is a clever acronym for Avoiding life Endangering and Reckless Texting.

I wonder how Oprah, LaHood, and Schumer feel about talking your four-year-old son through the process of peeing into a McDonald’s milk carton while hurling a Honda Odyssey down an empty stretch of highway.

Or how about this?  A small voice in the backseat of the new BMW announces, “I have to throw up right now — BLEECH!”  Does that qualify as driver distraction, and should the administration be considering a bill to ban underage automobile barfing?

I’d like to suggest a coupe of bills an ambitious senator could introduce as legistation.  For starters, let’s try SWIFT, which would be a ban on Spanking While In Fast Traffic.  I’ve done it, attempting to swat at a toddler whose escaped, Houdini-like, from a carseat/straitjacket while negotiating a hairpin turn.  It’s actually a hair more effective than a hands-free cell phone at getting a message across.

There ought to be a FART bill, a ban on Fighting And Riding Together.   I’ve witnessed some serious swerving on the highways, and it’s usually quite obvious that the occupants are fighting.    Or doing something else they shouldn’t be doing in the car.  The acronym for that would also be FART — Fondling And Riding Together.

Movie’s Over-Van Endangered.  The MOVE bill makes it a crime for a parent to allow a movie playing in the vehicle to run out while the vehicle is in motion.  A parent must anticipate the end of a movie and stop to change it well before all hell breaks loose.

A few years ago, I rode from St. Augustine, Florida, to Atlanta with my sister and her four preschool-aged children.  the twins were in the very back seat of her Ford Excursion, and the two younger children were in the middle row.  All were buckled into massive car seats with an empty seat separating them. 

I happened to glance back at the twins just in time to see Faith bend over the side of her seat and reach down to grab something.  Then, without warning, and certainly without provocation, she lifted a stick into the air and smacked her twin, Grace, across the top of the head with it.

“Hey!  What are you doing?” I yelled at Faith, just as Grace let out a hideous wail.  “She just picked up a stick and hit Grace with it,” I reported to my sister.

“Where did she get a stick?”  she asked.  Then, “Faith, where did you get that stick?”

“In Grammy’s yard,” Faith admitted in a tiny voice.

“Why did you hit your sister?”

“I don’t know.”

My sister and I debated what to do.  Should she wait until they got home to discipline Faith?  There wasn’t a good place to get off of I-75, so the safest thing to do would be to wait, we decided.

Then the two started struggling over the stick.  Someone was going to end up bloody if we waited.  My sister pulled onto the median, put the car in park, and then looked for something to use as a paddle.

“Use the stick,” I suggested. 

“It’s too big.  It might really hurt them,” she said, hesitating.

“Here,” I said, pulling off my flip flop. 

She crawled to the back of that monster vehicle, pulled Faith out of her car seat and used my all-time favorite flip flop to mete out punishment.  Then she confiscated the stick.  The rest of the trip, any time a kid let out a squeak, she held up the stick and said, “I’ll use this on you next time.”

When we got home, I stepped out of that Excursion and turned my ankle, causing the strap on my favorite flip flop to snap.  Faith saw it happen.  She grinned, picked up the stick that her mother had thrown into the yard, and carried it into the house. 

I wonder how Oprah would have handled that.

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