Darts and laurels

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 9, 2006

Laurels to the state law that went into effect Friday banning teenagers from using cell phones while driving. Most parents give their teens the same dictum, but the rule is hard to enforce once your young driver is out of sight. Having a state law to the same effect that imposes a $25 fine helps tremendously. Like the limited driving privileges given to new drivers for the first six months, this law recognizes the hazards of inexperience. Driving safely from point A to point B is challenge enough for new drivers; they shouldn’t try to deal with darkness, rowdy friends and cell-phone conversations too. Some advocate a similar hand-held phone ban for all drivers, since distractibility does not magically end when a person turns 18. Such laws are in place in California (effective July 2008), Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. But lawmakers should allow more time for drivers to regulate themselves and for technology to improve. For an adult driver, the cell phone may be no more distracting than a crying baby, a spilled cup of coffee, a dripping cheeseburger or the search for the right radio program.

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Laurels to the tax cut that also went into effect Friday, however minute it may seem. The state share of the sales tax on non-food items went down a quarter-percent, from 4.5 percent to 4.25. Rowan and most other counties charge a 2.5 percent sales tax, so you’ll actually see sales tax fall from a total of 7 percent to 6.75 percent. (Mecklenburg charges a half-cent more.) The cut might save only a quarter per $100 in purchases for you, but the cut is expected to reduce state revenues by $200 million, and another quarter-percent reduction goes into effect July 1. The two cuts lift a temporary tax increase lawmakers adopted in 2001 to deal with a yawning budget deficit. Though the cuts seem small now, the increase certainly loomed large in 2001. A cut in the income tax for high earners, from 8.25 percent to 8 percent, goes into effect next month, reducing another 2001 hike. Both taxes have been extended more than once. It’s good to see the legislature finally put some meaning in the word “temporary.”

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Dart to the deaths and injuries that have come about as winter storms hit parts of the nation this week. While Salisbury enjoyed balmy, 70-degree weather, snow and cold blanketed areas from Washington State through the Midwest, heading east on Friday. Now, before the fact, is a good time to bone up on safe ways to deal with winter storms when and if they hit the Piedmont. Stock up on candles, flashlights, batteries and salt. Review the need to drive slowly or not at all when ice covers the roads. And learn from past tragedies about the dangers of using portable generators in closed spaces. Carbon monoxide can overcome a house’s occupants before they even suspect they’re in danger.