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NEAL RUBIN

Rubin: For shame, drive-and-texters — and beware of Ed

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Ed Hingelberg’s move from Plymouth to St. Clair last year has given him a whole new perspective on texting while driving.

He’s against it, of course. Always has been. Along with anyone else with the sense God gave a swamp fish, he understands that it’s a menace and a scourge.

But now he has a much longer commute, about 50 miles to and from the pulsing heart of Detroit, and he bought a pickup truck, which gives him more of a view than he’d really prefer into other people’s cockpits.

From that fresh and frequently frightening perch, he reports that “the number of people I see texting is just incredible. I see accidents every day, and I know they’re related. I know they are.”

As for what to do about it, Hingelberg has an idea:

Shaming.

He’s not sure what kind of shaming, exactly. Suggestions are welcome. But texting while driving is already illegal and it’s already dangerous — according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, it leaves you 23 times more likely to get in a serious wreck — and people do it anyway.

“It hit me all of a sudden,” he says. That’s hit as in illuminated, by the way, not hit as in crushed with his black Dodge Ram 4-by-4. But to continue: “How can we do the equivalent of a Hall of Shame for people who are texting while driving?”

Hingelberg, 61, tends to be a big-picture thinker, and the picture is often an abstract. He was the first person ever to tell me, for instance, that you can sing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song.

(Go ahead. Try it. I’ll wait.)

In a few weeks, he’ll be at the podium at a banquet hall in Warren saying insulting things about a Methodist minister who is not only a woman of the cloth, she’s his boss. More about that later, but you get the general concept. So ...

Shaming. Why not?

‘Beware of Texter’

There’s some fine print involved — which you shouldn’t read while driving — but Michigan law basically says you can’t read, manually type or send a text message on a wireless device in your hand or lap.

That applies to any moving vehicle on a highway or street and it presumably also applies if you put your iPhone on the passenger seat, even though that’s not your hand or lap. The fine is $100 for a first offense and $200 for any repeats.

Oddly, no points are involved, which might make shaming the last and best resort.

“I’ve stared a couple of people down, and they’ve stopped,” says Hingelberg. He can’t exactly deliver lectures from a moving vehicle, though, and in tight traffic, honking seems unnecessarily rude and jarring to the few drivers who are actually concentrating on the road.

But what if you could shame and warn at the same time, alerting your fellow coachmen that the guy in the Pontiac Aztek was about to veer into their lane?

Hingelberg is the marketing director for Cass Community Social Services, a nonprofit that basically helps every group of people that the rest of us usually don’t think about. He’s not an engineer or an inventor, which leaves the field wide open for whoever wants to create the device he’s building in his brain.

It’s made of PVC, maybe — a handle and frame with an arrow and a sign that says, “Beware of Texter!” Or maybe it’s displayed across the rear window, with a big index finger pointed toward the inconsiderate motorist: “She’s texting!”

“I do not have the solution,” Hingelberg concedes. “I have the questions.”

Reverend roast

Come Nov. 17, he’ll also have the barbs. CCSS will be roasting its executive director, the Rev. Faith Fowler, at DeCarlo’s Banquet & Convention Center.

Full disclosure alert: As much as I admire Fowler, I don’t mention her often, because my wife’s company handles her charity’s public relations. But in this case, I’m also a roaster, as are Jim Vella of the Ford Motor Company Fund, comedian Jeff Dwoskin and assorted other bad examples.

Besides, Fowler was a 2003 Detroit News Michiganian of the Year, and she was just inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. It looks like word is out.

Tickets for the roast are $75. You can get them at casscommunity.org — but unless you want to answer to Ed Hingelberg, wait until you’re parked.

nrubin@detroitnews.com

@nealrubin_dn