Jewish World Review Dec. 30, 2003 / 5 Teves, 5764

David Grimes

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Consumer Reports

Ear-scratcher fingered by police | I believe I have made my position on cell phones clear:

1) You should not yak on one while you are driving 60 mph down U.S. 41, especially if you are simultaneously drinking hot coffee, eating a bean burrito, applying eyeliner, fishing around for spare change behind the seat cushion, slapping the noisy kids in the back seat and reading a newspaper.

2) Anyone whose cell phone goes off in a movie theater, restaurant or golf course while I am lining up a tricky 3-foot downhill slider, should be summarily shot.

3) People who corner me at cocktail parties to brag about their superior cell-phone-minutes plan shall experience severe gastrointestinal distress from the dip.

4) Third-graders do not need their own cell phones. Maintaining order in the classroom is difficult enough for teachers these days without little Joey calling his bookie every five minutes.

So I basically take a pretty hard line with cell-phone users. (See No. 2, above.) A lot of accidents are caused by people who are ordering pizza on their cell phones when they should be concentrating on their driving and, not a moment too soon, police in some parts of the country, including New York City, are cracking down on these dangerous jerks.

But even I must concede that Madrid, Spain, highway police may have overreacted when they fined a motorist for scratching his ear while driving.

Police stopped Tomas Valdivielso, who unfortunately for them happened to be a lawyer, because they believed he was illegally using a cell phone while driving.

Valdivielso showed the two officers that the last call on his phone went out the night before. After a brief huddle, the officers decided to fine him $70 anyway because he was "holding his ear with his right hand in a permanent fashion."

Valdivielso subsequently filed a 10-page appeal pointing out, among other things, that Spanish law does not prohibit people from scratching their ears while driving and that not scratching an intolerable itch while driving might be more dangerous than refraining from doing so.

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The Reuters story describing this incident does not say how the case turned out, but I believe the courts would be setting a dangerous precedent if they upheld the ear-scratching fine.

Once police are free to issue tickets to people who scratch their ears while driving, what is next? Tickets to people who pick their nose while driving? (I would only be in favor this if the finger in question was jammed in to the second knuckle or beyond.) Tickets to people who can't stop worrying that small but at the same time suspicious lump above their left eyebrow that is probably just a pimple but who knows these days what with arsenic in our water and cooties in our hamburgers and don't even get me started about the ozone layer and just for the record what exactly are the preliminary symptoms for fast-spreading forehead cancer anyway?

No, people should be free to pick their teeth, gouge the wax out of their ears and perform any other disgusting act of personal hygiene while they are driving as long as their other hand is not holding a cell phone.

Spain can do what it wants, but here in America fingers should remain free to do as they please.

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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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