Newcomers might find this hard to believe, but a common form of measurement a few decades ago, when it came to traveling Wyoming’s long distances, was: “How many beers does it take to get there?”
For decades, our state did not have open container laws. It was accepted that folks traveled distances with a cooler of beer to sustain them.
Thankfully, this culture of combining alcohol with travel has virtually disappeared. The toll of killed and injured people left in its wake enlightened our lawmakers to pass safer laws.
Or did it?
The real reason Wyoming has safer laws is the federal government forced us to conform.
Theme of this column is not about drinking and driving but new federal attempts to curb other forms of distractions while driving. Most Wyoming folks will not like these new ideas, either.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to force carmakers to build into cars new high-tech devices that will prevent you from using cell phones for calls or texts while your vehicle is moving.
My 2007 Denali has a built-in cell phone system that General Motors installed to make it easier for me to make phone calls while driving. What a difference a few years can make.
Another late model car we formerly owned had a Bluetooth connection, which played my cell phone call through the car’s audio system, making it easier for hands-free calls.
Wyoming residents drive more miles per capita than folks in any other state. We make phone calls when we drive. We eat when we drive. Many used to, even, drink beer while they drove.
A favorite motto for Wyoming is that is a moderately sized city with extremely long streets. Really. Long. Streets.
A typical Wyoming meeting is you drive three hours, meet for an hour, shop for an hour, have lunch and drive three hours home. The numbers of times that has happened in my Wyoming business career would measure in the hundreds.
Maybe it would be in the thousands if we added all the sports events from one end of the state to the other over a 20-year time period when our four kids were active in every sport imaginable from swimming to basketball to skiing to baseball.
We often head to Rawlins enroute to Laramie, Cheyenne or Denver. We always count the number of cars we meet on the 81-mile trip from Lander to Muddy Gap. One time, it was as few as three. Our open roads are way, way more open than most parts of the country.
Historically back when I owned several businesses, I could get a lot of work done while traveling. My phone was indispensable. Wyoming is just as famous for its black holes of no cell service but I still managed to get a lot of calls made. The inspiration for that old Verizon commercial of “Can you hear me now,” I assert, was originally from a desperate Wyoming person whose call was just dropped.
It might also be interesting to point out that Verizon says it spent $27 million in Wyoming last year upgrading its services. Union Telephone spent $11 million. And AT&T just announced it spent $8 million. These are for towers being built all across our vast landscape. For what purpose if not so people can make phone calls while driving down the road?
Federal intervention into our state desires did not start with the aforementioned open container laws or the soon-to-be promoted restrictions on calling and texting.
State leaders fought valiantly against the feds when the speed limit dropped from 70 mph to 55 mph in 1974. And we did not have cell phones back then to while away the time while traveling at a snail’s pace.
Prior to that time, Wyoming’s leaders instituted a program where our highway lines were yellow instead of white. Why? Because when snow and ice covered our roads, you could still make out the centerlines.
Wyoming lost those battles.
The feds would propose they cut off funding for our highways and we magically changed our minds.
With this ban on calling and texting coming, it will be interesting to see how our residents react.
Ironically, our state leaders (most are gray haired) would see few problems with banning texting since most rarely do it. I do not like to text, but am forced to by my children and grandchildren.
But a ban on cell phone use while driving? That could cause some outrage out here in the outback.
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at www.billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written four books. His most recent book is “Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders” which is available at www.wyomingwonders.com.