Suckling While Driving

Science, technology, and life.
March 2 2009 7:53 AM

Suckling While Driving

What's dumber than driving while

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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? Driving while talking on a cell phone and breast-feeding a baby.

Genine Compton of Kettering, Ohio, come on down! You're the next contestant on "I used my child as a human air bag."

According to local police, Ms. Compton admitted to this feat of triple-tasking on Thursday. Here's the Dayton Daily News transcript of a fellow driver's call to the authorities:

I tried to say something to her. She literally has the little girl on the steering wheel and I said, "I can't believe you have that kid in your lap," and she said, "You want to pop your titty out and breastfeed this kid?" That's what she said to me. I'm like, "You can feed your kid when you stop." It's like wet out here. It's full of traffic. It's ridiculous. She's got like three other kids in the car.

Compton's defense? According to the police, she said "she does not deprive her child when the child is hungry."

Apparently, in our high-pressure, gadget-driven world, people have become so accustomed to multitasking that they've stopped noticing it as an elective option. No one's asking you to deprive your child. If she's hungry, by all means, feed her. And if you need to take a call while you're at it, go ahead. Just don't drive while you're doing either of these things. Is that so hard to understand?

It seems that we now think of driving as a background activity. Whatever comes up in the foreground—phone call, text message, hungry baby—gets dealt with as though it's the first thing demanding our attention. Like a projectile following a straight line in empty space, we feel at rest in motion. But we aren't projectiles, we don't follow straight lines, and the space around us isn't empty. In traffic, inertia kills.

And that doesn't just go for the lady breast-feeding at the wheel. It goes for the child-safety enthusiast who reports her. Nobody seems to have flagged this bit from the Daily News story:

"I'm following right behind her right now on Far Hills Avenue," the caller said as he spoke to a Kettering dispatcher in a recording of his non-emergency call that was released by police. ...

You're following right behind her? While talking on your phone? So you can report her for multitasking at the wheel? Hello?

If you see somebody driving while distracted, feel free to report the culprit. But first, practice what you preach: Pull over.

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