• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Here's Johnny - Freedom from cell phones

And now, just in time for (the rest of) the summer driving season, allow me to pass on a few thoughts that may save your life, or those of your loved ones, or even mine. With gas prices the lowest this time of year since 2005, the American Automobile Association predicts that 42.9 million people will be on the roads during the 4th of July weekend. All too many will be engaged in behavior studies that have shown is even more dangerous than driving under the influence: texting, emailing, Facebooking, Twittering or watching cute cat videos on their phone while driving. How fascinating that during the Independence Day weekend, a device millions of Americans are utterly dependent on will play a role in hundreds of deaths and serious injuries. Kentucky's penalties against texting and playing on the Internet while driving are all but toothless: $25 for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses, plus court costs. Three years ago, then-Gov. Steve Beshear strengthened the law a bit by allowing points against an offender's operator's license, while drivers under the age of 18 are not allowed to use a cell phone at all. That must be very hard for most of them: Imagine having to make do with listening to the radio while driving - or, worst of all, giving the road and other motorists your undivided attention. (Disclosure: I often listen to my music collection or NPR or sports talk radio while driving.) Kentucky's weak penalties against texting or emailing are only part of the problem - police say catching offenders is harder than it may seem. "In order for us to truly be able to say that we observed what looks like texting - for instance, if someone is pecking on the phone for 30 or 40 strokes, well then that's obviously not a phone call at that point," a Louisville Metro Police lieutenant told WFPL Radio in 2014. "It is difficult, but we do enforce it," said Lt. Michael Fortney of the Versailles Police Department. Last year around this time, I shared an admittedly hard-to-carry-out and almost-certainly illegal way of fixing such problems inspired by spending two years working in our nation's capital. It was a device called The Vaporizer: Powerful particle beam generators are mounted in each headlight and taillight and hooked up to a monitor and joystick. When someone drives so badly they're clearly a menace to society, the driver of said-equipped car - me - lines 'em up and takes 'em out. Voila: one less bad driver, and because the beams are incredibly powerful, no wreckage (and, I suppose, no evidence). Two decades after coming up with this idea, no one - to my knowledge - has invented such a device, or at least put it to good use. So I reckon it's up to those of us who'll never get particle beam generators mounted in their cars to try to make the roads safer for us and those in the running for the annual Darwin Awards. We can lobby our state representatives and senators to stiffen penalties against people who text or email while driving. We can email Gov. Bevin's office (but not while driving) and ask him to, while he still has a thick stack of Executive Order stationery left, do the job himself. We can tell our children and their friends to, at the very least, put their phones on "silent" when driving. And some of us can write columns begging people to set their beloved smart phones down before they do something stupid. I dunno if Microsoft Word is mightier than the sword, but I write these columns hoping that one or two people may take heed - even if they read my rants on their not-so-smart phone. Have a safe 4th of July weekend, Dear Readers. Your cell phones won't sulk if you ignore them for a few hours while behind the wheel. They can always take pictures or video of the fireworks when you get where you're going.

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