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JIM HENDRICKS: Commuter finds himself in a real jam

OPINION: A Florida man who shut down cell phones on his commute is looking at a big fine

Jim Hendricks

Jim Hendricks

Heading up to Atlanta a couple or three weekends ago to watch the Atlanta Braves, who, at the time, weren’t losing several games in a row, mainly because they weren’t playing the Marlins, I was taken by a sight on Interstate Highway 75 — a young woman driving an SUV that we were passing.

This happened for a couple of reasons. First, it was a rare trip to Atlanta when I wasn’t driving. If I’m driving on I-75, I’m constantly looking out for, in no particular order:

— Guys my age who recently got divorced and feel like they need to ride on the edge of triple-digit miles per hour in a Corvette/Mercedes/Porsche/whatever insensible car their ex-wife who refused to wear sensible shoes wouldn’t let them have;

— Law enforcement officers who take speed limits particularly seriously as opposed to suggestions with some reasonable leeway;

— Drivers immediately ahead of me who have contracted the little studied and even less understood pandemic of Restless Leg Syndrome or other muscle-twitching malady that forces them to inexplicably — and repeatedly — hit the brakes for no apparent reason;

— Would-be obstacle course drivers who swerve from lane to lane without benefit of reason or obvious driving ability;

— Gas station billboards posting the cheapest gas prices so I can save 3 cents per gallon on the way home, which would amount to about 54 cents or so, which suddenly doesn’t really seem worth the trouble and, now that I think about it, is in serious danger of being dropped from the observation rotation.

What it boils down to is there’s plenty to keep my attention so I rarely notice other drivers, regardless of whether they are women and fetching, which this one was, but that wasn’t the reason I noticed her. I explained this to my wife, but she was a bit skeptical and thoughtfully suggested it would be best for everyone concerned if I were not caught anywhere near a car lot where Corvettes, Mercedes and/or Porsches could be procured.

I am nothing after 27 years of marriage if not a doting husband who has learned to grasp the art of the subtle hint.

In any event, this particular driver caught my attention because she was driving with both hands — and simultaneously texting. What she did was she had her cell phone at the top of her steering wheel, where her thumbs were busily clicking out LOLs, OMGs, LMAOROTFs and some other random letter combinations while at least some of her other fingers were attempting to steer her very large SUV, that was barreling north on I-75 at 80 mph-plus in heavy traffic.

I thought to myself, I wish I had one of those electronic jammer things right now. Then I was distracted when a guy my age (I think the official texting term is “OF”) came flying up in the lane between us in a cherry red rag-top Vette, promptly tailgated the car ahead of him, impatiently waited for some space to open up, swerved into the next lane and started the process all over by tailgating another car.

But I was reminded of the double-thumbed texter Friday when I saw a story out of Tampa, Fla., about a guy who didn’t just think about getting a cell phone jammer. He went out and bought one. On top of that, he used it. For about two years before he got caught.

According to reports, Jason R. Humphreys told authorities he’d been using the jamming device as he commuted on Interstate Highway 4 between Tampa and Seffner, thinking it was creating a 30-foot-radius no-cell zone around his SUV. The idea, apparently, was he wanted people watching the road, not chatting and texting while their vehicles barreled down the road.

If it had been doing exactly that, he’d probably have gotten away with it. But he was a victim of superior performance. According to the reports, his cellular jammer was shutting down cell towers altogether. That got the attention of the cell phone company that owned the towers in April 2013. The company reported the outages to the FCC, which staked out the highway and got a description of the vehicle that was putting out the blocking signal.

Not long afterward, a couple of sheriff’s deputies pulled over a vehicle matching the description and had a big clue that they had their man: Their two-way radios had quit working.

While quite a few of us who have seen driving texters drift in and out of their lanes and drive in a maddening slow down/speed up pattern would have given Humphreys a medal for performing a public service, the ending’s not that happy. The jammer’s illegal because it interferes with 911 calls and police communications, and the FCC decided last week that it will fine Humphreys $48,000, which is pretty pricey for an offense that doesn’t involve sporting event wardrobe malfunction or cussing on TV. He’s got 30 days to agree to that or to explain why he’s not going to pay it.

I can’t help hoping the folks at the FCC give the guy a break. But even if they do, I suspect it’s still going to end up being one really, really expensive commute.

Email Jim Hendricks at jim.hendricks@albanyherald.com.