My brush with Mr. Phone-in-his-Ear

Here's a story that illustrates just one reason why it's only a matter of time before driving with a cell phone jammed in your ear will be as illegal as driving with a beer can stuck to your lips.

It's an intersection I've passed through every day for years on my way home. And, it's that familiarity first and foremost that gets credit for me being here in one piece to type these words. (Well, that and a local police officer.)

Shortly after exiting the parking lot onto Rte. 9 eastbound, I scoot over into the high-speed lane so as to join the left-hand-turn queue to reverse direction onto Rte. 9 westbound. This queue was judged a low priority by traffic engineers and can become crowded, meaning two or three lengthy light cycles worth of wait. So, when you're under the yellow, there's a temptation to goose it and get through there.

Pushing the yellow is a temptation I've learned to resist, however, thanks in part to the helpful intervention of the Southborough Police Department (whose officer was kind enough to let me off with a warning). I've also seen ample evidence of why the SPD doesn't want people tempting fate there.

On the day of our tale, I find myself pulling up short at the stale end of yellow and then idling first in line to make the U-turn.

East-west traffic goes first and seemingly forever, which is only proper given that Rte. 9 is a heavily traveled thoroughfare thick with office buildings, car dealerships and strip malls.

Next up is traffic exiting the side street from my left, some turning right, harmlessly, and others crossing Rte. 9 into the eastbound lane. These folks, too, pose no worry to me because I'm not going anywhere anytime soon.

(It's worth noting that I'm driving a Toyota Corolla; a fine automobile for commuting, but not exactly Hummer-like in terms of its ability to absorb a blow, should it come to that.)

Once the drivers to my left have had their turn, it's time for those patiently waiting on the side street over to the right to have a go at it. And, remember, they've been queued up there since the leaves were green, so they're itching to move. Some turn right onto Rte. 9 eastbound, showing me nothing more dangerous than their tail lights; others are headed west, which brings them directly in front of and across the grill of my idling Corolla.

Zip, zip, zip, zip ... My foot is aching off the brake and inching closer to the gas with each passing car. After all, my 5 o'clock shadow has hit 6 since joining this queue and like everyone else on the road at this hour I just want to get home.

The left-hand turn arrow finally pops green, which I know from experience means only one thing:

Wait. ... And then wait some more.

At least one of those zip-zip-zippers will be saying to heck with the yellow-just-turned-red light and goose it to get through there. Two is more likely. Three not unprecedented.

On this day, my foot moves to the gas after the third red-light ignoramus clears my idling car, but, as noted above, I know better than to presume anything.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spy No. 4 just in time to hit the brake and the horn simultaneously.

The guy doesn't slow down at all. Nor does he so much as flinch at the sound of my horn (granted, it's a Toyota horn). And the reason is obvious: The clown has a cell phone stuck in his ear, lips moving as fast as his car.

I blast the horn again. Nothing. No what's-your-problem glare; no extended middle finger. ... Being a grownup, I let him go.

But I got to thinking about what had just happened. Had it been someone with less local knowledge sitting where I was at the front of that queue - say an out-of-towner or a teen-ager - there's absolutely zero doubt that a major collision would have occurred.

The only thing that's unclear to me is whether Mr. Phone-in-his-Ear would have taken notice of the impact long enough to stop yapping.

And that's why driving under the influence of a cell phone cannot be outlawed soon enough to satisfy me.

(Update: These phone-obsessed asshats cause traffic jams, too.)

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