The “Mobile Pause”

Mobile Pause

I don’t drive as much as I used to. When I lived in Los Angeles, I commuted 20 miles from Studio City to Santa Monica. Five days a week for eight years. That gave me my fill of driving. Today, I live five miles from my office. On the rare instance when there is traffic, it takes me 20 minutes. Most times, I can make it to the office in under 15 minutes. The record is 12 minutes. All things considered, I can tolerate this commute.

We drive to Maine each summer, a trip of just under 700 miles each way. Each Christmas, we drive to Florida, a trip of just over 1,000 miles each way. I enjoy these drives. The family is together. We take our time. They are much more like road trips than commutes.

You can’t spent 27 years driving without becoming an observer of how other people drive. One trend in the local commute that I have noticed over the last few years I have christened the “mobile pause.” It goes like this:

You are sitting at a stoplight, at least one car back from the light itself. Eventually, the light changes from red to green. The cars in the lane next to you all begin moving forward, but for some reason, the car (or cars) in front of you don’t move. There is a pause just long enough to where you begin to wonder if you should tap your horn. Just as your hand hovers over the steering wheel, the car at the beginning of the line zooms off suddenly, as if in a hurry to catch up with the cars that have gone ahead.

It took me a while to figure out why this was happening. Then it hit me. The driving of the car at the front of the lane is looking at their mobile phone. It is safer to look at your mobile phone when you are stopped. The problem is, if you don’t look up, you don’t see the light turn green. I can imagine this person updating Facebook, or reading an email message. Suddenly, almost like a sixth sense, the realize that they have been sitting there for a while. They look up—and the light is green. They gun the gas, wanting to be sure to zoom ahead before anyone has a chance to honk at them.

According to the Virginia DMV:

Anyone under 18 years old is banned from using cell phones or any other personal communication devices while driving.

Texting is banned for all drivers. In Virginia, it is considered a primary offense, which means police can pull you over if they suspect you of texting while driving. The fine is $125 for the first offense, and $250 for subsequent offenses.

People are always trying to find ways around the law and I suspect that many people feel that it doesn’t count if you are stopped at a stoplight. This has been happening with increasing frequency. Several times a week, even in my short commute, I am on the verge of honking at the car in front of me after the light has been green for five seconds or so—and just before I can do it, there they go!

Having named it, I find it doesn’t bother me as much. Perhaps the phrase will even catch on.

“Honk at them,” Kelly will say when the light turns green and the car in front of us doesn’t move.

“Don’t worry,” I reply, “they’ll move in a second. It’s just a mobile pause.”


  1. in Georgia anyway, being stopped at a traffic light doesn’t count – LEOs have been ticketing drivers for using their mobile while stopped in various traffic situations. The engine has to be off for use of mobile devices.

    Many pulled over couldn’t believe they were getting
    busted while sitting at a light, so police had to spend
    time explaining the law to some skeptics.
    “Anytime you’re in the road, in the roadway, you’re
    in gear and in control of the roadway. Even reading
    it falls under the code section as well,” one officer
    told a driver.

  2. I know from personal experience how dangerous this is – Once I was in the midst of my own mobile pause, and *thought* I saw the light turn green, so I started to roll. Unfortunately, it was the left-turn light that had turned green (and mine was still red), but I was already halfway through the intersection before I realized it. I gunned it and safely made it across. It still gives me the chills to think about it, and I have never done it again.

    1. I was a much more careless driver BEFORE I took flying lessons and got my pilot’s license back in 2000. A big part of flying is situational awareness, and the lessons I took from that I applied to many other things, including driving.


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