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Opinion: Common sense, please: Cell-phone users an annoyance in traffic

Once upon a time, when I was 15 years old and a know-it-all sophomore at Chamberlain High School, I led a student walk-out of English class.

Well, it wasn't all students. None of the girls walked out, and a few of the boys changed their minds and stayed in their seats, which turned out to be a pretty good decision. But a bunch of us walked out, even with the teacher yelling at us to get back in our places.

We hadn't been getting dismissed exactly when the bell rang, see? It happened three or four times. I was class president, and a bunch of the guys talked me into being the leader in this "Rebel Without a Cause" sort of protest. It was immature and foolish, and when I reported to the principal's office later that afternoon, I was pretty much in a serious regret mode.

I had absolutely no answer when Howard Elrod, the school principal and a great math and chemistry teacher, asked me, "Where was your common sense?"

I had that same thought just the other day as I drove to work after lunch. Pierre isn't the home of every stoplight ever made, but on this afternoon I managed to hit three in a row, all red. I was second vehicle in line at each light, and in the car ahead of me, the driver waited through the red with her right hand at dash level and her head cocked to the right so she could read the screen of her cell phone. When the light changed, she sat for 20 seconds or so staring at her screen. I resisted the urge to honk. I hate that move. I had only a few blocks to go, in any event, but still, watch the road, right?

Same thing happened at the second red light, and the third. Now, not being critical, but if you had looked up from your phone to see that you were sitting through a green light and delaying a short string of cars behind you, wouldn't you pay attention at the next light? I hope I would, too. This person didn't, and I thought "Where in the dickens is your common sense?"

Nancy and I went to Rapid City recently for a doctor's appointment. After the drive from Pierre, I arrived in a mood to use the restroom outside the doc's office. The door was locked, and I could hear someone talking. After a couple of minutes, I rattled the door knob. A couple of minutes later, a young guy emerged, still talking on his phone. He paused in the doorway, pivoted and said over his shoulder, "Sorry, I gotta wash my hands." He resumed his phone conversation and spent a while longer inside.

Excuse me, but common sense, please?

I shouldn't pick on cell phones alone. I drove west maybe 20 minutes or so after sunset not so long ago. I was in some rolling hills. The light remaining from the day shone just above the horizon and the low spots below the horizon were deep in shadow. It was a tricky time to be driving, one of those instances in which you tense up, sit up and squint through the windshield into the line between the shadows and the sunlight, trying to see deer, pheasants, cars or pickups.

Suddenly, a dark pickup with no lights showing approached in the other lane. It was by me almost before I recognized the outline of the dark vehicle against the deep gray shadows. I was startled, and I immediately slowed my already plodding speed.

I know there's a state law that requires motorists to use lamps from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise. I'm guessing this guy had a few minutes before that law took effect. But I truly couldn't see his vehicle, and it was a dangerous time to be driving dark.

If the guy had stopped, I'd have introduced him to the wit and wisdom of Howard Elrod.

Terry Woster's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays in The Daily Republic.