Drivers are more distracted than ever. It’s the phones. The mobile phone is present in most of our cars. If you’re reading this you likely have a mobile device. These aren’t just phones any more. That little case is 98% entertainment/communication/organization device, and 2% phone. And because enough people focus too much attention on their phones and not on their driving, traffic fatalities are up over the past few years. I say “enough” people because I’ve seen it too often to know we have “enough,” which, if you need it quantified, is at least 5% of the drivers on the roads. A recent study showed 20% OF PEOPLE REGULARLY WRITE AND SEND TEXT MESSAGES WHILE DRIVING.
I commute about 35 miles, round-trip, in some heavy traffic on a daily basis. I rarely go more than 50 yards without seeing the tell-tale signs of a distracted driver. Where most folks are packed in close to the cars around them, there’s maybe a 5-10 car-length opening in front of a car. As I pass it I see the driver, usually a young woman (sorry, could be an old woman, too) with her eyes cast downward, away from the road for 2-5 seconds. That’s a lot on the highway. Guys do it, too. Glancing down even if their phone is up near their early-20’s face. Then they glance up, and right back down to their lap or thereabouts. Something must be verrry important.
Imagine you’re driving a reasonable 35mph. Close your eyes and count “1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi.” Open them for 1 second, close them again and count. That’s about what I’ve seen people doing while behind the wheel of a car. Driving and not causing an accident and catching on fire and not making it to work for bagel day apparently isn’t enough motivation. Whatever is happening on that phone – UFO Landing? Bigfoot visiting St. Jude’s? STREAMING VIDEO OF THEIR CHILD’S BIRTH ON A SPACESTATION, right? – has taken precedent over the safety of everybody else on the roads, including their own. And we don’t have the right to endanger other people. And the age ranges of the perpetrators vary wildly , so we’re all to blame.
I’ve also seen this on surface streets. Last year I was pushing a stroller fully-loaded with a ready-to-run toddler up to a crosswalk. No light or stop sign for cross traffic, the pedestrian just grabs a flag to help identify themselves. The far lane, crossing right-to-left, stopped. As I looked at the curb lane closest to me, a car about 50 feet away going about 30mph was driven by a woman who’s face was aimed lap-ward, about 6 cars following her. She glanced up over the top of her sunglasses then right back to her lap. Never slowed down. As she passed I shouted “HEY” through her open passenger window and got her attention. Abruptly. Of course she snapped-to and gave me a dirty look and hand-wave from her car. God-forbid I distract this driver! The car behind her had slowed to a stop, and that driver was shaking her head. Everybody’s responsible for their own actions, and I’m not going to endanger myself or my family to prove a point. Still, that chick’s a shithead.
According to one study, drivers who are texting are 4 times slower to brake than drivers who are at the very least “impaired” by alcohol, if not legally drunk. This infographic has more interesting facts about the dangers of Texting & Driving. It also states that drivers are six times more likely to get in an accident (cause one, basically) when dialing a number.
So, make text-related traffic stops, tickets, and accidents as harshly punishable as DUIs, or even moreso. But firstly, do the right thing and put your phone down on the road, listen to podcasts, and zone out the way you used to. Eventually our cars will block all communications unless the car is turned off and sittin under an overpass. As long as a few keep doing this and aren’t openly chastised and heavily penalized (like a person can own a cell phone but no carrier can give them a plan for less than $500/month), it’ll keep happening. Be careful out there.