Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Rage against distracted drivers (and some self-blame)

The other night, I jumped into a cab in New York City, told the driver where I needed to go, then started checking email. A couple minutes later, I glanced up to see the driver repeatedly glancing down at the console beside him as he drove. I realized he was looking at a navigator on his phone.

"IT IS NOT OK TO LOOK AT YOUR PHONE WHILE YOU'RE DRIVING," I said, heatedly and anxiously. Granted, sometimes it's the pregnancy hormones talking these days but people who continuously glance at their navigators as they drive is an ongoing pet peeve.

"I'm using my phone to navigate," he explained.

"That's really not safe—your eyes should be on the road," I said. "I'm pregnant, this scares me and I'm going to get out if you don't stop."

He did.

In my mind, the greatest threat to the safety of my family isn't crime, terrorism or some natural disaster. It's the very real terror on the roads: people who use their smartphones as they drive.

There's a major campaign against distracted driving, AT&T's It Can Wait, which I recently learned more about when I attended a presentation sponsored by the company. A new poll of 2067 people in the U.S. finds that seven in ten engage in smartphone activities while driving, mostly texting and emailing—but a fair number of people on the road are checking Facebook and Twitter, too. Three in ten people surf the web. And seventeen percent of those polled 'fessed up to taking a selfie while driving. Yikes.

I haven't been hearing much backlash against navigation distraction, which is likely even more rampant with the advent of Waze, the community-based traffic and navigation app. As useful as I find Waze, the issue of drivers looking at it worries me. Adding to the distractions: Drivers can tap a thumbs-up or "Not there" when alerts crop up that police, stopped vehicles, accidents or other obstacles lie ahead.

I never use social media or text while driving; the kids are usually with me and I don't want to risk their safety or set a bad example. We got a smartphone car mount for our windshield so my iPhone is at eye level, and I try my best to just listen to the navigator voice when the car is moving and look at directions only when stopped. On occasion, I lapse. After Googling around, I've discovered that taking my eyes off the road (no matter how quickly I do it) qualifies me as a "distracted driver," per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—putting me squarely in the same category as that cabbie.

Checking a navigator might seem acceptable because you're using tech for a definitive purpose—finding your way as opposed to, say, chatting with a friend. It's not. The bottom line is,
you're not looking at the road. I think back to what I learned in Driver's Ed, and how peripheral vision comes into play during driving; eyeballing a smartphone or car navigator messes that up.

When you consider everything that can go wrong when you're driving, you realize that glancing away from the road for even a split-second can be dangerous to your car's occupants, other drivers and pedestrians. According to the most recent stats available, in 2012 3,328 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, and an additional 421,000 were injured.

Currently, 14 states prohibit drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving; 37 states ban all cell phone use by novice or teen drivers; and 46 states ban text messaging for all drivers, per the National Conference of State Legislatures. That includes when they're not moving; I recently spotted a cop giving a ticket to a young woman texting in her car while at a stoplight. I turn off my phone's sound while driving, so I'm not tempted by the siren call of that Facebook Messenger "Ding!" and other alerts.

AT&T has a new commercial out, Close To Home, about one of the most seemingly innocent forms of distracted driving. Be warned, it's disturbing.

As the It Can Wait campaign notes:

No text is worth a life.
No photo is worth a life.
No email is worth a life.
No post is worth a life.
No search is worth a life.
No video is worth a life.

And, I might add:

No directions are worth a life. This mom is going to stop looking at the navigation app when the car is moving.

Image source: Flickr/Jeepers Media


  1. Every year in my high school we have a week focused on safe driving. It hits home because there have been 2 students in the last 5 years that have died due to distracted or drunk driving. Its incredibly scary. And that commercial is definitely disturbing.

  2. A student at my school died from distracted driving. I was in 6th grade at the time and she was a senior, so I never really knew her. It's still sad and an unnecessary death.

  3. I've followed your blog for a number of years and never posted. This subject is one I talk about every chance I get. Two years ago I witnessed our neighbor being fatally injured by a distracted driver. Statistics show:
    Distracted driving has been found to be as dangerous as driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 (legal limit for intoxication);

    Contrary to belief, hands-free cell phone use is not substantially safer than hand-held use;

    Engaging in visual-manual subtasks increases the risk of being involved in a crash by 3 times;

    4.6 seconds is the minimal amount of time your attention is taken off the road when you’re texting & driving. If you’re traveling at 55 MPH, this equals driving the length of a football field blind.

  4. This one speaks volumes.


  5. Yeah I think distracted driving is higher threat than drunk or drugged driving these days. My sister works for a Los Angeles DUI lawyer and she often tells me how the number of accidents are on increase with every year where driver got distracted due to cellphone in his hand.


Thanks for sharing!

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