Put the hamburger down and drive

When did driving become secondary ... to driving? Is it really so boring that we need all kinds of entertainment gizmos to keep us amused?

There are so many distractions inside the vehicle that I wonder if we have enough attention span to consider the distractions -- the surrounding traffic -- outside the car.

If it's not the guy reading the paper, a woman reading a map or a teenaged girl needlessly gabbing to her friends on a cell phone, or texting, while in traffic -- which is thankfully illegal in many areas now -- then it's the kid with the noisy (distracting) exhaust and even noisier (even more distracting) stereo.

Shouldn't driving be about driving?

And instead of this situation improving, it only appears to be getting worse. With a fast-paced, multitasking life comes a barrage of new distractions.

Drive around at lunch and see for yourself. Who doesn't have some sort of fast food on the go? And there's my new favorite pet peeve, the Vin Diesel wannabe watching the "Fast and the Furious" on his in-dash entertainment center in Dolby surround sound ... and the passenger-seat rider playing video games. Is this taking place in a parking lot or a driveway? No, it's happening right smack in the heat of downtown traffic.

Perhaps you've seen this kid. He has one eye on the road and another on the movie playing in his rolling dance club, complete with glow lights and disco ball. And Boy Racer is too focused on the chase scenes to see that he's running red lights, cutting off other drivers and rolling through pedestrian corridors. We're all unsuspecting extras in his real-life adaptation. But in this version, the star isn't going to walk away when he slams into and flies over a transport truck.

There was a time when driving was enough of a distraction; when going for a Sunday drive through the park or opening 'er up on the highway was entertainment in and of itself.

What happened and where will it end?

You can eat, sleep, drink, smoke, go to the bathroom (you think I'm kidding, don't you?), make dinner reservations, check your e-mail, check your stocks and check out the latest movie release ... all without stepping outside of your car.

What's next, an in-car washer and dryer? You could freshen your three-piece suit on the way to a big job interview, or rinse your "fine washables" on the way to a hot date.

Multitasking at the office is one thing. But when I turn off my computer and head for home, the last thing I want to do -- and the last thing I'm sure other drivers around me want me to do -- is begin surfing the net when I should be watching the road.

Frankly, it has gone too far.

How is anyone supposed to concentrate on the task at hand, you know, driving? Remember that part? Where you stay in one lane, turn when you're supposed to and pay attention to your surroundings to avoid a collision?

Never mind expecting someone to use their turn signals or shoulder check before veering into another lane.

Cell phone-packing drivers remain at the top of my hit list, but there are others we simply can't ignore. How about the driver with the three-pack-a-day habit swerving in and out of his lane because he's having trouble lighting up? How about the woman inhaling a hamburger and fries on her way back to the office, the dripping double-decker in one hand, spuds in the other and a super-sized soft drink between her knees.

I know we're all guilty of trying to do too much at one time. In this day and age, it's pretty much unavoidable. But driving is tough enough without recreational distractions. Let's keep those at home so we can focus on the road.

Rhonda Wheeler is a journalist with Wheelbase Communications, a worldwide supplier of automotive news, features and reviews. You can e-mail her by logging on to www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html.