Once upon a time, you got concerned when you saw someone behind the wheel with his hands on his lap, smiling as he stared down at his groin.
Said driver was more than likely taking a moment to pleasure himself. Today, you're still alarmed but for very different reasons. He's still taking pleasure, but it's all coming from his thumbs.
That's because today, when you see a driver with his chin tucked in and his eyes on his lap, you can be certain he is engaged in another form of self-manipulation. He is practising the gentle art of "crotching."
To crotch, the driver must keep his mobile device on his lap or tucked between his legs. He surfs the web, sends texts, Googles himself, all with his hands and eyes busy between his legs.
He's engaged in this covert operation because he wants to hide his dirty little secret from prying eyes and law enforcement officials. He doesn't want to be caught for distracted driving, so instead of doing his Facebook update with one hand by the steering wheel, where at least part of his attention would be directed at the road, he opts to gaze down at his groin-turned-phone-pillow.
Crotching is a lot like actual masturbation. Almost everybody does it, but nobody will admit to it.
It can be harmless. Crotching in the classroom is almost epidemic. Many instructors are more familiar with the tops of their students' heads than their faces. It's annoying for teachers, but the worst thing that can happen is that junior doesn't learn anything. And who knows, maybe he's taking notes on his mobile. It could happen. Right?
Yet, like a lot of activities we enjoy – taking mood modifiers, having sex, performing surgery – when you indulge in these enterprises while operating a moving vehicle, all that pleasure can turn deadly. That's why most provinces have outlawed using hand-held devices while driving. Barely a day goes by when you can't read about some other senseless crash caused by a motorist who was too busy typing "LOL" to keep his eyes on the road.
Enter the theory of unintended consequences. By prohibiting texting and talking, by applying the law as penicillin, we've created a dangerous law-resistant strain of aberrant behaviour. Prior to these anti-texting edicts, drivers were not paying full attention to their driving. Now many of them, fearful of some ticket, are paying no attention. In our efforts to stop drivers from having one eye on their phones, we've created a situation where they have none. We've created crotchers.
So what's to be done? If we don't stop them, they may all go blind.
The easy solution to all this is willpower. We drivers are sentient beings. We know being distracted is lethal. This fact has been illustrated in the newspaper and every other place. The trouble is that the easiest solution is sometimes the most difficult to execute. Ever watch a guy light up and then spend five minutes talking about quitting smoking? Eat too much? Willpower. Drink too much? Willpower. Spend too much? Willpower. If we mortals had willpower, this world be a very a different place, but the only willpower we seem to have consistently is the will to cave in.
We could rely on technological solutions to give us the willpower we lack. An 11-year-old girl recently won $20,000 in AT&T's "It Can Wait" competition for creating "Rode Dog," an app that lets you send barking noises to folks you see texting behind the wheel. Who knows, maybe the robots will save us.
It may be that easier-to-read devices solve the problem for us. The news service Business Wire, citing a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab, quotes MIT AgeLab research scientist Bryan Reimer: "The study indicates that the right typefaces can make a difference in reducing the amount of time not focused on the road. ... With digital information and entertainment increasingly available through in-vehicle displays, we know that text in cars is here to stay. Given this reality, text needs to be as easy to read as possible. Your eyes need to get back on the road very quickly for obvious reasons."
But won't we just turn the machines off when we want to text? And won't an easier-to-read typeface lead to more distracted driving? The truth is that we can't rely on technology – that's the thing that got us in this mess in the first place.
If we're going to stop crotching, we need to hit them where it counts. We need to highlight the kind of risks that will have crotchers flinging their phones through car windows. Many are anxious about the radiation that our mobile devices give off. We should be asking crotchers: "Do you really want to risk exposure – down there?" We need to start up a public awareness campaign. We need anti-crotching billboards.
Here are a few slogans to get us started:
"Hope you enjoyed that text. Your testicles just took 250 microsieverts of radiation."
"You have one new message: 'You just microwaved your reproductive system.'"
Those can get us started. I'll work on some more. In the meantime, let's all agree to lock our mobile devices in our trunks. There's a time and place for everything. If you're going to crotch, wait till you are in the privacy of your own home.
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy