Michael Booth: How can we cope with a ban on mobile phones?
Saturday 29 November 2003
The other day I was sitting in my car at traffic lights, minding my own business. Actually, that is not strictly true, I was gazing longingly out of the corner of my eye at Norbury's answer to Vanessa Paradis in the car next to me, while I was eating a packet of Flaming Hot Monster Munch from my lap with one hand, and rooting around in my left nostril for what felt like it might turn out to be a lost relic of Angkor Wat with the other.
Then my phone rang.
Without a moment's hesitation (because all my calls are of the highest importance) I answered it with my Monster Munch hand, extracting the other from my nostril to take over steering, indicating and gear-changing duties. At that moment, the lights changed but I still managed to answer the call, consume another MSG-packed mouthful and recommence driving with my elbows. Sorted.
But from 1 December, if I do this while being observed by a policeman with nothing better to do, I could be fined up to £1,000 and receive three points. Outrageous, no?
Well no. You see, the other day (a different one), I narrowly avoided being T-boned by a fool in a Scorpio who was so engrossed in his trivial, meaningless, mobile conversation that he exited a junction without looking. If you had asked me at that moment for an appropriate penalty, it would have involved slow blood letting disembowelment.
And herein lies the crux of the driving-while-phoning issue: If I am doing it, fine, but Lord have mercy if I spot someone else doing it, for, as God is my witness, I will hunt them down, drive them off the road and rearrange their nethers with a scissor-jack.
To unravel this paradox and brush up on the new law I visited the Department for Transport website. After a few Website Not Respondings I finally accessed a message saying, "The Prime Minister has decided to create a new Department for Transport to focus solely on transport issues". I was redirected to www.dft.gov.uk. From there I followed a link to 'Driving with Mobile Phones: FAQs', which responded with another 'Website Not Responding'. So I followed another link to www.motoring.gov.uk.
In the week that new mobile phone laws were being discussed, its headline was (and I am not making this up): "Do West Lothians Know their Indicators from their Dipsticks?"
So I rang the Department for Transport press office. They sent me a press release. It seems that, contrary to the media hysteria, the penalty for holding and talking on a phone while driving (or even using "hands-free" if the police judge it to be impairing your driving) is £30. You cannot receive penalty points or a higher fine until the Government finds more time to pass the appropriate laws. But, of course, £30 buys you an awful lot of Monster Munch. So how could I still receive those life-and- death calls, without incurring a fine?
A solution presented itself the next day when a new Lexus LS430 arrived on loan. The Lexus has Blue Teeth, or something, and because my phone does too, it turned the car into a giant phone booth. Better still, the Lexus was automatic, thus leaving my hands free to attend to all my body's other needs while on the move. Now if the police see me talking in the car, I shall claim I was singing to myself. And even with Nanny Alistair Darling in charge, it should still be a while before this Government gets round to outlawing that.
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