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Monday, 29 July 2013


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You know what the biggest problem is....the viewpoint from behind the wheel and the movement of the car. When you see things in a moving car they have a lot of charm attached to them that gets lost in the instance you stop the car and get out to take a picture. Then the mundane seems to be just that, mundane. Therefor I don't use a car I use a bike.....the viewpoint from the bike is much more in keeping with the viewpoint from the car and since the speed is a lot slower, if you see a shot from a bike 2 times out of 10 it gets rewarded with a shutter action.

Greets, Ed.

[I agree Ed. I take better pictures from the bike than from the car too. --Mike]

Mike, like many aspects of photography, people see something in a photograph and think they "know" a lot about what they think they see in it. Turns out that in your case (and I'd dare say just about every other situation where a photograph is taken), not only is the photograph itself profoundly lacking in specific information that can be turned into knowledge, but the very act of creating the photograph is as well. People see a photograph taken from a (moving...?) car in stormy conditions, and immediately think the photographer irresponsible as he MUST have been busy composing/operating the camera, and not been paying attention to the road. The photographer, who actually operated the camera at the moment the photograph was taken, says not so - just a random act of grabbing a shot. What people 'know' from photographs and what actually is there are almost always two different things. You now prove that the same is true with the act of photographing!

Heh, Drive by shooting!!! Has more impact than "Drive by Photography..." I did that recently on 3300+ mile round trip... Vancouver, WA to Winnipeg, Winnipeg to Edmonton and then home... My wife drove like fury, she just wanted to get there... So, as she drove, I photographed! Some photos turned out better than I thought, missed a lot, you know, zoom, zoom and the image was gone! Very interesting experience.

Makes perfect sense but its illegal in BC Canada to use cell phones or other hand held electronic devices while driving -- (speaker phones are okay).

I think that where I live what you are doing is probably legal, unless you use a camera phone in which case it will cost you $298 (or double over holiday periods), plus points off your license, if you get caught.

My mileage differs significantly, and i blame it on the cars here in Australia being right hand drive, i'm trying to grab the camera with my left hand then swap hands to shoot. Might be easier in an auto...


Two things.

First, I agree: shooting while driving can be accomplished safely if the privilege is applied judiciously. Think of it this way: if you crash your car, you don't want the explanation to begin with "Well, I was taking a photograph . . ." And you REALLY don't want that to be your opening gambit if someone else is hurt.

Second, your excellent sky photograph prompts a shameless plug: I have put together a 20-page book that combines my Christian faith with my passion for sky photography. It can be downloaded absolutely free (and with no sign-ups) here: http://www.airgunsofarizona.com/blog/about-jock-elliott

Cheers, Jock

Third, your exc

Mike, I understand you're not much into nature or wildlife photography, but if you were, your driving camera gear next to you on the seat would probably have a big long tele lens attached and laying on a beanbag. And unfortunately, shooting through the windshield really compromises quality!

23 years of driving country roads to a 3rd shift job gave me wonderful opportunities at both ends of the day to study the wildlife in our area here in Kentucky. The biggest danger on our narrow roads was the likelihood of getting rear-ended if it wasn't possible to find a place to get completely off.

I took a photograph through my windshield a couple of months ago with a Mamiya C220 with a waistlevel viewfinder. It's not exactly my best work! But sometimes you see something and you've just gotta try, no matter how lousy the odds.

A counterpoint, on the highway, it might be more dangerous to pull
over to take a photograph. There is a reason you're not to park there
other than emergencies. I find grabbing a well known camera, no more distracting than the constant eye rove of road, guages, mirrors.
Around town it's easy to stop.



I shoot while driving all the time, and yes I take flack for it. I could certainly see this being more of an issue in countries with the wheel on the right, since there is the issue of having to switch hands to get the camera in the right hand.

I will admit that I can't text and drive, or use my cell phone camera while driving, but my SLR is fine one handed. I never look through a viewfinder while the car is in motion, but still get some interesting shots just lining up and shooting blind.


CAUTION: You should never ever drive with "The camera sits on the passenger seat". I lost a camera that way when I had to suddenly brake and the camera crushed to the floor and was unrepairable. From that day on, if I do need a camera handy in a car, I'll put it right on the floor.

For years now I've been taking "Wetscapes" through the windshield of my car in the rain. But I try to do it only when stopped, for example here at a red light: 500px.com/photo/41498124.

There is a broader principle here. I've seen more than one pedestrian photographer almost get struck by a car while taking pictures, not to mention those who have walked into objects or other people. The point is that if you focus too much of your attention on photographing (or even just gazing around, looking for potential subjects) and not enough to what is going on around you, you place yourself at risk, regardless of whether you're in a car or out walking.

Mike, I'll take you at your word that you're not taking any foolish risks. That being said, if taking pictures while driving is not something you would do with your son in the car with you, or something you would tell him not to do while driving, then maybe you should reconsider whether you should do it while you're driving alone.

Mike, 3 points, 2 of which have been mentioned by others:
1. There really is something about 'motion captures' that is different from 'static captures'
2. Someone used the term Drive by shootings which reminds me of NYC Taxi driver David Bradford's 1999 book of the same title.
3. Given your passion for both driving and photographing, (and your stated desire to do it safely) why not install a simple 'dash mount' or behind the rear view mirror mount for a small camera, along with a wired or wireless remote, and turn the whole thing into the mobile TOPCAM. You could even have 2 so you could capture front or side view without ever taking your hand from the wheel.
I see a book, 'On the road with TOP

I'm very sensitive to distractions while driving, because I know how quickly and fully my attention can be diverted. That said, I take photos while driving almost every day during my commute. I use a tripod, secured in the passenger seat, and a remote release trigger. This setup helps me capture some really interesting images while minimizing distractions.

To me using a camera as you describe is no worse than tuning the radio, drinking a soda or conversing with a passenger -- distractions most people tolerate on a routine basis. Probably less distracting than checking a GPS map and much less so than texting.

FWIW, many years ago a friend got a ticket for eating french fries. At least that's how she described it, though the citation was actually written for failure to maintain lane.

I almost posted yesterday about this. Wish I had now. I have taken literally thousands of photos from my motorcycle while riding. The drill is, set the throttle, lock it, grab camera (preset to achieve the look I'm after) shoot until I think that I may have what I want, or an incline/decline changes my speed too much, or another vehicle enters my sphere of influence. I find it increases my attention and awareness in those moments when I am thus occupied. I have thousands more from a car but I find the motorcycle more interesting. I've been riding since about 1965, so I have developed an unusual level of awareness when on any number of wheels. Never phone. Never look at camera.

This is a fair to middling example of why I'm not fond of routinely putting captions on pictures.

"But for myself, I'm very comfortable driving the car (at moseying-along speeds, anyway) with just one hand on the steering wheel."

You're in good company. Many people feel "very comfortable" driving with one hand while talking on the phone, navigating their play list, applying makeup,...and taking photos.

You should also consider that you're not 20 any more. You're at an age where your coordination and reaction times are certainly greatly degrading.

Rivers of blood and tears shed each year due to people who overestimated themselves in cars. A pretty picture is just not worth it, Mike.

I'm one of those folks that can't chew gum and walk at the same time. I have to be very aware of my driving, even turning up the AC a notch is fraught with risk. Given that I've often wanted to photograph while driving. So now, with all this automation available I've always wanted to rig up a camera fixed inside the car and a remote release clipped/duct tape(Red Green solution)to the steering wheel. With a moderate wide angle locked on infinity it might work, at least for one direction.

I suppose this is sort of what those GoPro video set-up's are all about. Except of course a single frame selected from them probably wouldn't equal the quality of a dediacted still digital camera.


A Google images search for images similar to your sunset produces some very interesting results. You must have been hungry at the time?

When people see my latest project I'm often admonished for being unsafe. What Ernest Zarate says above:

What people 'know' from photographs and what actually is there are almost always two different things.

Couldn't be more true.



I'm with you Mike. Ever since I discovered that professional race-car drivers drive one-handed because they use stick shifts, I've driven one-handed. Heck, sometimes I even steer with my knees when I'm taking pictures while I drive.

Safety might be an issue I guess. A few years ago, on a lark, I setup my 40D with the remote timer to take a picture once every minute from Big Bend National park to San Antonio. Something over 500 miles. I admit to changing batteries and memory cards while driving. Didn't think much of it at the time. Unfortunately my dashboard was not too stable. Should have used an IS lens.

The real errors in the "just drive" theme are two:

1. It is not humanly possible to "just drive" because it normally demands so little attention, that your mind will per force sometimes be elsewhere. There are very deep biological reasons for this. This is part of why there were lots of traffic accidents before cell phones, radios, or small cameras.

2. It is not practically possible to "just drive" because you WILL be forced to adjust things like HVAC controls to deal with distracting heat, cold, and fogged windows, you WILL have to raise and lower visors, and so on.

Cars and photography are inextricably tied -in the words of Edward Weston:

“Anything more than 500 yards from the car just isn’t photogenic.”

Trouble - that's capital T
That rhymes with P
That stands for Pool

And you call yourself a role model for all who view the internet...

I could be unduly influenced (somehow)

But thanks for documenting that slippery slope above.

Lance Saint Paul

Ah, go ahead and shoot. There's a big difference between using a cell phone (or especially texting) and driving, and shooting and driving, as long as you're not shooting out a side window. When you're shooting through the windshield, you're looking right where you'd be looking if you weren't shooting. I'd probably object if you were doing art studies which take a lot of concentration, through the windshield of a moving car, but if it's a snapshot, I don't see a problem. Life is too short to cross every T. Life is also too short to second-guess yourself on everything.

Last week I had to go to a hearing for a driving violation in Santa Fe. I was caught on one of those robot speed cameras going 20 mph in a 15mph school zone. There were no kids around -- in fact, the school was closed, I think -- and you know how hard it is to drive 15mph anywhere? I had the option of simply paying the $100 fine (no points, no report to the insurance company) but I thought the speed trap was unfair, because there was a large bush blocking the view, from a car, of the school-zone warning light. I thought that was unfair to both the driver and probably to the school kids the light was supposed to protect, so I asked for a hearing. I took a shot through my windshield of the bush blocking the light and showed up at the hearing and showed the photo to the cop and the hearing officer. As it happens, the charge was dismissed on some technical grounds I didn't understand, but neither the traffic cop or the hearing officer said a single thing about the shot through the windshield -- we just talked about the bush, which we agreed should be cut.

And I didn't endanger anybody doing this. If they actually cut the bush back, my shot might save some kind from getting run over.


[You'll love this...I once watched my car getting a parking ticket for no reason I could discern, so I went rushing downstairs to confront the officer. He explained that I was "blocking an entrance." When I expressed my incredulity, he parted the bushes, and there was an old rusted sign saying "Entrance, Do Not Block." Sure enough, fifteen or twenty feet on down the street there was a companion sign, also completely overgrown, demarcating the other end of the alleged entrance. In between--that is, actually IN the "entrance"--there were numerous 25-foot-high saplings with 4+-inch trunks.

I pointed out the absurdity of this, but the cop would not budge. (End of the month.)

And you know what really frosted me? My axle was only ten inches past the sign--meaning that my car wasn't actually blocking the place that had once been an entrance! If it had been passable at all, it would still have been passable despite my car. --Mike]

there is a side issue here of perception, how when you are driving you see so many great potential photographs but then you try to take them the objects are just too tiny and far away and the perspective is wrong.

And it never looks the same when you stop the car and get out.

Something about the frame of the windshield and how our eyes disregard actual scale makes the view from a car very hard to duplicate. You put a long enough lens on to render the objects you see correctly and you lose the context, the frame of the windshield, going the opposite way to be more wideangle and you would have to print the photo almost lifesize to render the scene like you saw it.

does anyone else notice this?

I shoot from the car all the time, either when I am by myself or when my wife is driving. My old Nikon D70 with the 18-70 lens has been relegated to this duty and stays in the car. I get a lot of shots that I could not get any other way.

There is also an interesting dynamic that isn't discussed when discussing distracted driving, namely that there is a huge difference between empty interstate driving in the mid-west vs 75mph bumper-to-bumper on the east coast.

I'm pretty sure people's ability to drive and do other things at the same time varies a lot. Some people basically can't drive, period :-) . Though many do so anyway.

And people's ability to estimate distraction level is at least suspect.

Still, if I can talk to a passenger, including actually looking at them fairly often, I'm not worried about taking an occasional picture if there's nothing complicated going on around my car.

I think the laws trying to bring things down to allowing only what the least competent can do are deeply stupid.

I have mixed feelings on this...

On one side, I have a whole photo series centered on my so called Drive-By Shootings that yes, I take while actually driving. I've been doing this series for a few years now. Outside of the title of the series there, I really don't try to promote that the images originated by my doing so, as I whole-heartedly agree that it is not best practices for both a photographer, let alone a driver, and do not in any way, encourage others to do so themselves. Sort of like the old phrase - "I'm a professional, don't try this at home". Except that - there si no such thing as a professional driver/photographer.

I only began shooting Drive-Bys, only out of boredom, when I had to do driving trips of a couple hours or more that I do regularly... so as to pass the time.

I would be remiss if I didn't honestly confess either, that I have been surprised and pleased with the shots that I have acquired by doing so... unbelieving that I actually was abel to capture what I did, while all the while it was attained while I pretty much was just pointing the camera in it's direction and pressing the shutter, while driving by at sixty plus miles per hour, or, usually, much faster and interstate speeds. Really adds to photography alone, itself, being a capturing and freezing of a split second of time... even more so when capturing something that is there for a fraction of a second, and then literally gone behind you the next fraction of a second as one speeds past it.

And will honestly say, that more than once, pulling out my camera and doing some shooting, while driving, has actually helped me, in times when I have been driving all night, and/or when very tired, and doing the battle of keeping my eyes open, that engaging in the activity of shooting, has wakened me right up, and allowed me to get through those sleepy spells. Nothing like driving at interstate speeds, on a shared road, while framing and shooting at the same time, to stimulate the mind and senses, and clear the sleepy cobwebs away.

Which leads exactly to the other side - the whole safety of it all. And again, I am in no way condoning, and/or promoting this shooting that I do... and have vowed more than once, that I would no longer do them, for the safety implications. Not so much for me driving off the road into a ditch or tree because I am too busy concentrating on photographing something, because frankly, if I cause my own demise one day from doing so, well, then I deserve it, for being the idiot who was doing so... but, at least will go out doing something I enjoy and loved doing... and the shot better damn well have been worth it!

However, if my doing so, led me to, like drift across the center line, and/or in any way, cause danger to some other innocent fellow traveller on the road, and caused injury or worse to someone else, because I was a stupid idiot photographer, too busy doing something that he shouldn't have been doing instead of his main, and only task in before him - driving! I would never forgive myself for having done so.

Yet, like a person with an addiction, even though I swear I'm on the wagon with not doing it all anymore while driving, next long drive I'm on, and my photographer's eye and mind that never turns off, sees something coming up, and again goes my hand to my camera bag.

Point to all of this though - is to simply say, for others to not EVER begin to do, try to do, or attempt at all, unless done as Mike wisely does, and actually pulls over and does so. Says one who fails in practicing what he is preaching.

I shoot images often whilst driving. But I don't kid myself into believing it's safe. It's highly dangerous, and probably selfish by risking the lives of others for an eyeball kick. Your post has made me think I should just cut it out.

I think the laws trying to bring things down to allowing only what the least competent can do are deeply stupid.

Unfortunately, the least competent still manage to pass driving tests. Perhaps they should be more difficult.

I enjoyed your photo's from the car. I do it all the time, with my trusty little Canon S100. We don't take crazy risks like paparazzi, we just take pictures that mean something. So keep on doing what you are doing Mike! TOP is such a great teaching site, a moderating influence on life and photography. You can see my latest photo-while-driving on the link to my Flickr site. The lights are red, of course...!

"But for myself, I'm very comfortable driving the car (at moseying-along speeds, anyway) with just one hand on the steering wheel. For a very good reason: for most of my life I've driven cars with stick shifts. Left hand steers. Right hand shifts. Right hand often rests on the stick."

For me, that is the most disturbing paragraph in your post, Mike. It's really not a good idea to rest your hand on the stick shift. It can be bad for your transmission, depending on how much pressure you're applying, and really, if you're doing any sort of spirited driving, two hand on the wheel is the way to go.

This from How to Shift sums it up:

"Many people fall into two bad habits on the street when shifting. First, Hollywood has taught everyone that it looks cool to always leave your right hand on the shift knob. Wrong! You may as well tie your hand behind your back as leave it on the shift knob. Your hand belongs on the steering wheel--always. When you need to shift--shift, and get your hand back on the wheel. Don't even rest it on the shifter for a few seconds a head of time to "get ready." Every time your hand leaves the steering wheel you've given up 50% of the tactile feedback you have from your hands, and 50% of your capability to control the car."

Three-Pedal Maggie

[Hi Maggie, right you are, and right they are, except I don't think they're talking about puttering around town in my little burg, where the "big" arteries have a 35 mph speed limit. Our speed limits seem like they were set in the '30s and '40s and now it would be too expensive to change the signs. --Mike]

I did that nonstop for a couple years. The important thing is to never take your eyes off the road when the camera is in your hand, never look at the camera, use a camera with autofocus and motorwind (not a problem with digital), and keep the camera in your shirt/coat/vest pocket so you don't have to hold it for more than a few seconds. If the camera is not small enough to fit on your person, don't bother. You don't want to deal with cameras sitting on the passenger seat, pinched between your legs, falling on the floor, or hanging from straps. Ideally, you'd have somebody to drive you around, like Garry Winogrand.

Have a few sips of beer while driving, it's nowhere's near enough to impair you.

One toke of a joint will mellow you out enough that you don't speed as much.

If you keep your texts to "yes", "no", and acronyms then what's the harm?

Why would they put cup holders in the car if they didn't expect us to drink?

Tweezing your eyebrows in the rearview mirror? As long as your eyes are on the road....

A practical guide to photographing while you are driving at 70 mph:
1. Any photo is not worth an accident.
2. You are not going to get great photos.
3. It is tempting but don’t do this often.
4. Before start your vehicle, set your camera in manual mode, set your lens at f8 or smaller and at hyper focus.
5. Set your shutter speed at least 1/400s or faster.
6. Crank up ISO as high as you need.
7. Put your camera where you can comfortably grab it. No bend of your body. No side movement.
8. Make sure what you are seeing outside of your window can be at least a good picture.
9. Make sure you have a clear view and you don’t need to turn your steering wheel.
10. When it comes, grab your camera, let it rest on you steering wheel and snap a few frames; or
11. Rest your camera or lens on your shoulder, pointing to the side window and snap a few frames, or point your camera to the pessenger window and snap a few frames. (Assuming your are a left hand driver).
12. Put down you camera immediately.
13. Do the Step 10 to Step 12 with feeling only and without moving your eyes from the road.
14. Chimp only when you want to go home right away.

Good on you, Mike, for being honest and up-front about this.

I suppose it is fair to compare your process with the process required to take a call on a loose mobile phone while driving.

- take phone from pocket: one hand on wheel, eyes on the road.

- push 'answer' button: most people can do this without looking.

- talk to caller: full view of road, one hand on wheel.

This looks no less distracting than your photo technique. And yet this exact activity with the phone has been proven beyond doubt to be the cause of so many injuries and fatalities, that it has had to be banned in most first world countries.

I guess it's a no-go.

Driving has always been a leap of faith (a local DA, now retired, recently said that when someone is arrested for DUI they've already driven drunk 80 times without being caught). Whatever the distraction, I wonder how many have been harmed by others who believed "It won't happen to me."

Rationalizing is rationalizing, any excuse in a storm.

I've taken photographs of drivers overtaking over double barrier lines on the steep hill down into our village - breaking the law and endangering themselves, other road users and me too.

I rationalised my act(s) that way, but the plain fact is that it is against the law and that alone should be sufficient to deter any right thinking person.

I still have a vaguely red face when I think about it.

Now that @robert talks of the windshield (A-pillar, dashboard) or car window as context (natural frame or edge intrusion), I can actually use some of my drive-by snapshots without cropping.

The main difference to me between shooting from inside a moving car compared to shooting on the ground, is "car-shake" (i.e., high frequency vibration which puts paid to sharpness when shooting one-handed even with an IS camera). To improve my keeper rate, I usually take drive-by snapshots two-handed, like this one.

I wasn't driving of course. These shots were taken in Bali where they drive on the "wrong" side. My current P&S has a better hand grip and I now shoot bursts.

Kadék, Mr. "Bali local guide"

As for perspective, only tightly framed wide to normal shots of subjects immediately in front or to the side of the road, works. Unless you're aiming at the "vanishing point" of a long stretch of road. In which case it's safer to shoot from inside a moving car, rather than pulling up to shoot in the middle of a road. Also, foreground motion blur due to the combination of subject- and shooting platform movement (when shooting at moderate shutter speeds) can only be captured from a moving vehicle.

The picture below was taken not through the windscreen but from the open side of a tuk-tuk in Siem Reap (where both LHD and RHD cars drive on the right side of the road; the tuk-tuk's driver seat is at the center like the McLaren F1).

I support you as a fan. But be careful of your life, and probably others as well.

Perhaps someone should produce a safety video on photographing while driving. I would recommend giving the job to the Germans who made this masterpiece on forklift ooperation.


Some studies have shown that doing ANYTHING other than driving can be a pretty bad distraction, including talking on a hands-free phone.

Here's one article... googling will find several more :


A relevant passage (particularly the last quote) :

"Sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, he [researcher David Strayer] compared driver response in different situations. Radio or audiobooks were judged mildly distracting. Talking on a hand-held or hands-free phone or to a passenger were all more distracting, with hand-held the worst of these. But voice-activated systems to send and receive texts and email were the worst kind of distraction.

The fundamental problem is that safe driving demands attention, but multitasking divides our finite mental resources. 'Just because a new technology does not take the eyes off the road does not make it safe to be used while the vehicle is in motion,' wrote Strayer."

Obviously, no one is going to demand silence and zero distraction when driving; That could potentially have its own consequences. But I think people are more easily mentally distracted than they think. Just because you see something (with your eyes on the road), doesn't mean you're processing it in a timely manner.

If you think about it, there's sort of a minor tradition of taking photographs from cars (maybe it's the real "Street Photography").
Friedlander, Winogrand, Wessel have all done work from cars. Joel Meyerowitz did a series from his car as well. How about Frank's bus pictures? And with a little stretch, you could even include Doug Rickard's work.
Anyone else you can think of?
Could be a nice little book in this.

Elaine Mayes was profiled in an article on the PBS Newshour that discusses her work in the Smithsonian American Art Museum's new exhibit, "Landscapes In Passing."



A huge booooooooo for the PC police! It probably makes them so happy to admonish others, in order to feel better about their boring and safe choices. You are either a careful or careless person and driver, and it does not change with a particular activity. You can either take pictures while driving carefully (like Mike did, and I often do) or carelessly, just like many other activities while driving.

I once responded to a similar complaint ("taking photographs while driving is dangerous and criminally irresponsible") with a satire:

Hell yeah! Especially with a view camera... I usually write my will first, then duck under the dark cloth of my 8x10. The good thing is, it does not take more than a couple of minutes to focus and compose. The most dangerous part is when I emerge from under the dark cloth, I usually get blinded by the light (either daylight, or incoming traffic)... and deafened by the incessant honking around me.

The purpose of my little satirical piece was to make a point that we are not shooting with 8x10s while driving, but autofocus, auto-everything cameras that require nothing more than taking them into one hand and pressing the shutter (not even lifting them up to our eye). It takes just a second or two and is way less distraction than fiddling with a GPS, changing radio stations or CDs, smoking, or just plain talking to passengers, let alone on a cell phone. These are common, everyday minor distractions millions of drivers are having as we speak. And these are the distractions millions of drivers learned how to deal safely with. Otherwise, we would have a daily carnage on our roads. It is to easy to advise "just do not be distracted at all"... life is way more complicated than that.

You should always drive alone and in complete silence.

Playing music might make you want to sing along, distracting you and drowning out vital outside sounds.

Passengers will often want to talk to you, which can be distracting and is possibly very, very deadly! Won't someone think of the children?!? (Who, BTW, should never be in the car with you, because there are few things as distracting as a child wanting to know: "How many more minutes?" "When can I pee?""Why can't I _______?" "OMG!My sister/brother isn't staying on his/her side of the backseat!!")


This PSA brought to you by The Swift Foundation.

[You joke, but that's actually very true. Recently it was established that the single greatest danger factor for a teenage driver of either sex is the presence of four or more male passengers in the car--more dangerous even than being drunk! Boys in the car tend to get loud, excitable and physical, and fall naturally into doing, and goading each other into doing, risky and rule-breaking behaviors. "Rambunctiousness" is what my parents used to call it. They're a huge distraction for any young driver, who cares more about what's happening inside the car than outside of it. --Mike]

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