It's been nearly a year since the state enacted tougher penalties for distracted driving. Using your cellphone or other hand-held electronic device while driving is punishable by fines of $100 for the first offense, $200 for a second offense within a year, $300 for a third offense within two years, and the fines are doubled in school or construction zones.
I don't know what the statistics say, but my personal observations tell me that higher fines haven't been an effective deterrent. Nor have those painfully sobering public service announcements on TV, the ones in which a grieving friend or relative shows the last text message sent by a loved one, right before the crash. I still see drivers holding their phones to their ears, or worse yet, in front of their faces.
Only one thing keeps me from rolling down my window and chastising these folks. OK, two things. Self-preservation and guilt. Yes, I, too, am guilty of driving distractedly.
It has nothing to do with cellphones or iPods or even GPS. Those above-mentioned TV spots were enough to cure my compulsion to text at stoplights. Friends who know me as a CrackBerry addict may not believe it, but my phone stays in my pocket or otherwise out of reach whenever I'm driving.
Political sign wavers and giant campaign banners no longer catch my attention. The new trend of larger-than-life candidate portraits has broken me of the habit of examining the roadside signs of the season. I'm sure they're all nice people, as friendly as they are photogenic, but it makes me uncomfortable to see them staring back at me with those fixed, not-quite-natural smiles. Some of our neighborhood street corners look like theater marquees laden with movie posters. Let's just hope the candidates don't start using action photos instead of the quaint, high school graduation-style portraits.
Now that I'm immune to the distracting signage around me, I find myself staring at the cars in front of me, pondering the meanings of cryptic vanity license plates and, lately, the names of car models.
It's fascinating, the way car names reflect changing societal values. A few decades ago, when we liked our men macho, not metrosexual, guys drove around in Mustangs and Challengers. The dudes in Detroit named their cars after dangerous animals, like Barracudas and Vipers. Or weapons like the Cutlass and LeSabre. As women became more liberated and men more sensitive, cars - and their names - got cuter. Remember the AMC Gremlin? The Dodge Brat? Animal namesakes were tamed; we still had Broncos and Rangers, but now the Pinto and Colt joined the herd.
Now, with Asian automakers supplying most of our vehicles and trying to appeal to our enlightened lifestyles, car names are kinder, gentler, downright peaceful, in fact. The in-your-face Thunderbirds and Chargers have been eased aside by Insight and Fusion. On Kaahumanu Avenue yesterday, I found myself behind an Aspire, which inspired me to research my own car's name.
My Yaris, according to Toyota, got its name from the Greek goddess Charis, who symbolized beauty and elegance. Not exactly how I would describe my little blue economy compact, but I guess there was no mythological representative for cuteness. A Toyota spokesperson said, "We put (Charis) together with the German expression of agreement, YA. We think the name symbolizes the car's broad appeal in styling and really represents Toyota's next generation of global cars."
My friends call it the BlueBerry, which I think is a much more accurate description.
In looking up Yaris, I found a list of wonderfully weird names, assembled by Forbes Magazine. In Japan, you could find yourself staring at the bumper of a Honda Life Dunk, a Mazda Bongo, a Volugrafo Bimbo, or my favorite, a Daihatsu Naked.
Talk about distracted driving.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.