Juggling While Driving
Could Be Dangerous
A groundbreaking, volumous study reveals that juggling while driving could be dangerous under certain conditions. Jugglers are furious.
By George Wolfe
LOS ANGELES — Juggling critics lashed out at the latest driving pastime, citing a number of juggler-related crashes in and around Southland freeways.
A new study sponsored by the University of California
at Berkeley concludes that people who juggle while driving a moving
vehicle experience a phenomenon called "divided attention,"
which has the potential to lead toward "diminished `intelligence
quotients.'" In other words, because they're trying to do many
things at once, they might do something dumb: like hit something.
"If we say that balls are OK, then do
we allow pins? How about knives? And fire??!"
Paul Simmons (D - Long Beach)
Juggling commuter Jim Donaldson defends the
increasingly popular activity, "Hey, I just like to do it. And
with my commute taking longer each year, I don't think it's unreasonable.
I'm tired of the same old news, and book tapes just don't do it for
me anymore. What's wrong with keeping myself entertained? It's very
constructive, like learning a language. Plus, I don't drink coffee,
so it keeps me awake. I think that whoever's making such a big stink
about all this is just jealous — they're probably just frustrated,
uncreative people who wish they had something better to do on their
way to work."
The study, to be published in this month's issue of Sense and Insensibilities, has re-opened a debate that began when radios were first installed in cars. At the time, lawmakers argued that the new devices should be banned from vehicles because they would distract drivers.
But manufacturers of juggling balls and other juggling paraphernalia contend that juggling while driving poses no greater danger than do cell phones, back seat conversations or driving under the influence of an appetite.
Juggling manufacturer, CircusStuff, Inc., isn't
happy with the pressure to clamp down on jugglers. "Why single
us out? And once you say that, in America, a person can't do what
he pleases while in the privacy of his own car, then isn't that
setting a dangerous precedent? Where do you stop? Do we keep people
with allergies off the roads because it's a danger to sneeze and
drive? Of course not. Educating people about the dangers of their
choice of entertainment would be more effective that simply regulating
The National Safety Council, a non-profit which originally sponsored the study, would not take sides on the matter. Instead, they note at the end of the study: "It's not our goal to say what's right. This study is merely an attempt to better understand the situation. Despite the efforts of this study, we agree that there's still not enough information out there to make an informed decision."
But such statements haven't stopped California legislators from grappling with complaints by their constituents: businesses and individuals alike. "There are certainly a lot of gray areas that we're busy sorting out," says Paul Simmons (D-Long Beach). "If we say that balls are OK, then do we allow pins? How about knives? And fire? To me, I can't help but think about how many lives could've been saved with even minimal legislation in place."
The penalty for juggling would be the same as driving without a seat belt: $20 the first time, $50 for further violations.
Long-time transportation expert, Bill Bothwell, defends the new study and calls for reason. "Look, it's not meant to be a total solution. But common sense says that circus-related stunts and driving just don't mix. I mean, come on! If you know someone who juggles and drives, and you love them, tell them it's just not cool."
But sensing the broadening debate and regulations over driving while doing certain activities, an alliance was formed that calls itself Hands Off My Car. The group is a mixture of fast food chains and makers of circus arts equipment.
"Laws for drivers should be equal," says alliance member Cindy Bakersfield, "whether I choose to swallow a hamburger or a sword."