Road Rage in New Jersey

Crackberry addicts, even if this story is “dogpile,” it’s worth contemplating next time you pick up your PDA while driving to see if you’ve got a new message:

New Jersey State Police are investigating an allegation that the trooper who was driving Gov. Corzine’s SUV two weeks ago when it crashed going 91 m.p.h. may have been distracted by e-mails sent to his mobile phone or BlackBerry.

A Berkeley Heights police sergeant was quoted in the Star-Ledger of Newark yesterday saying he sent an e-mail shortly before the crash to Trooper Robert Rasinski, confronting him over having a two-year affair with his wife, Susan. He said he enclosed a family photo as an attachment.

Detective Sgt. Michael Mathis said he hoped the angry messages he sent to Rasinski did not cause the April 12 crash on the Garden State Parkway.

“We are confirming that there is this allegation and that it is under investigation,” State Police Lt. Gerald Lewis said yesterday. He declined to comment further.

Police are trying to determine whether Rasinski saw the messages just before the crash and whether they had an effect on his state of mind. The governor’s Chevrolet Suburban, speeding and with lights flashing, was struck by a pickup truck that had swerved to avoid another vehicle. The SUV then spun around and crashed into a guardrail.

Can you imagine the situation, if this is true?  Or, to be fair to Trooper Rasinski, let’s imagine it generically.  You’re driving a VIP to an important meeting (in Gov. Corzine’s case, it happened to be with Don Imus and the Rutgers women’s basketball team).  You notice the signal that a new e-mail has arrived.  You read it and the news is…existentially upsetting. Someone you care about has died.  They found a lump somewhere and they want to biopsy it.  Your pet has disappeared. You’re dumped. You’re fired.  Another 9/11 has occured. 

Okay, not too long ago, it would be considered uncool and uncouth to send such news on an e-mail.  But apparently not anymore, because there is no dispute that Sgt. Mathis did use e-mail to confront Trooper Rasinski with his allegation.  And certainly, Trooper Rasinski would not be the first driver on an American highway to read an e-mail while behind the wheel, traveling at high speed.

The problem of electronic communication devices and driving has been framed up til now as one of distracting the eye and diverting the hand.  But what about the soul?  Should you be driving at 80 or 90 miles per hour simultaneously with getting news that will change your life forever?

Obviously, no.  But how do we stop the news from coming in?

Trooper Rasinski’s union brothers are, of course, standing by him:

Davy Jones, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association, blasted Mathis’ allegations yesterday and called them “dogpile.”

“My people are out there doing the right thing,” he said yesterday.

Jones told the Star-Ledger the investigators asked Rasinski “all these questions in a taped interview. That’s part of the standard protocols. . . . There’s nothing here other than an understandably aggrieved, soon-to-be ex-husband putting something forward that is totally without merit, and it’s a sin.”

The new twist in the crash investigation came as doctors reported that Corzine is breathing on his own and began taking food yesterday.

Mathis, 40, had posted messages on the Star-Ledger’s Web forum, saying he had sent Rasinski the e-mail with the photo just minutes before the accident. “I hope it didn’t cause the crash,” Mathis wrote in the forum, “but no man in his right mind could have been thinking clearly with the affair exposed.”

Mathis confirmed to the newspaper that he had posted the comments.

Mathis also wrote in the forum that he first contacted Rasinski on April 10 in a phone call and, over the next two days, exchanged text messages with the trooper. He told the newspaper he learned a month ago his wife was having an affair.

So this wasn’t the first Trooper Rasinski would have learned that his affair had been discovered.  But still, he was being harassed by his lover’s husband, and it must have stirred his blood each time he was confronted with the fallout.  And then, over his shoulder, here’s the governor saying Get me through this traffic, Trooper.

Ever since the Clinton/Lewinsky scenario, it’s assumed that everyone can compartmentalize.  They can do anything and everything in their private lives; their jobs won’t be affected.  That’s the position the fraternal association takes on the case now before us.  The issues are completely separate, and only a half-mad jealous husband is capable of the “sin” of thinking Trooper Rasinski’s driving was affected.

So, then why do we want to ban cells phones in moving vehicles? Is it logical to say drivers can compartmentalize themselves from a life-altering event, but not from a trivial phone call?

5 thoughts on “Road Rage in New Jersey

  1. Clearly, the use of electronic devices (even hands-free such as On-Star phone which I have in my vehicle) are a distraction to the driver and a nuisance to others on the road with them. That is why I use On-Star only when absolutely necessary (i.e. I order 100 minutes of phone time a year and rarely run out – that comes out to less than 10 minutes a month – incoming and outgoing combined). The problem, as I see it, is that the people “multi-tasking” simply have no regard for the others on the road. During the daytime hours, almost ever time I see someone not keeping up with traffic, weaving, cutting someone off, etc, they are talking on a cell phone, diddling with their cell phone, diddling with their PDA. And I live in a city that is probably less prone to this type of arrogance. I would think that it would be worse in LA. But then again, unless traffic is moving, all of the distractions and erratic driving are less burdensome on the other commuters. I am not an advocate of legislation on this. I am an advocate of some common sense and common courtesy. If you need proof of how inadequate your are driving while talking on a cell phone, diddling with a cell phone, diddling with a PDA, have a close friend follow you (not too closely) while you multi-task and ask them what they think of your driving. Or believe the studies done on this. You are no different than the subjects of the studies. If you believe you are, volunteer to be a subject in the next study.

  2. As usual, I’ve probably masked my actual point of view behind a too-heavy cloak of irony. I agree with you, and I am a reformed sinner who not only read BlackBerry messages, but wrote them, while driving. This kind of thing is so obviously unsafe; I agree, people who think they can carry on business conversations, arguments with their spouses, or flame wars while driving are taking all our lives in their irresponsible hands.

    I just thought it was funny to contrast the concern people have about multi-tasking drivers with the official cultural sanction against considering how one’s private life will affect one’s public responsibilities. Isn’t carrying on an adulterous affair a possibly distracting form of multi-tasking, especially when the affair blows up in your face? The troopers’ association leader had the perfect “how dare you suggest such a thing?” response that sophisticated people are condititioned to have. If this story is true, it’s a clear demonstration that the private sphere powerfully affects the public.

  3. It wouldn’t be that hard to design cell phones so that when they determine that they are moving at or above a certain speed on a highway, via their GPS capabilities, they would hold off on accepting text messages.

    Here’s another interesting solution to a another road problem, tailgating….

    Maybe the following story will reduce the problem and discourage the tailgaters. We have a 12 mile stretch of two lane road through mountains with grades and turns. I pull over even if it means pulling into a driveway where I have to come to a complete stop.

    Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad trucks ?

    Great story ! The other day a guy driving an oxygen delivery truck who was sick and tired of his job and sick and tired of big monster pickup trucks tailgating him came up with a solution as he set out for his last run.

    He rigged up a release valve trigger for several of the large tanks, so that the resultant cloud of oxygen would go directly backwards into the grille of the offending truck.

    When the pure oxygen went into the air intake of the trucks he sucker-baited, the mix was so rich and powerful that the trucks blew up their engines. I heard he managed to blow up at least four or five before he ran out of oxygen. Being a good guy, he still made his deliveries to his patients of their normal requirements.

  4. “It wouldn’t be that hard to design cell phones so that when they determine that they are moving at or above a certain speed on a highway, via their GPS capabilities, they would hold off on accepting text messages.”

    No way would that ever happen. It’s entirely possible and legal for a passenger in a vehicle moving at a high speed to be sending and receiving text messages, so it’s completely ridiculous to think that solution would be a good idea.

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