Distracted driving an inescapable part of life

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Did you know that April is Distracted Driving Awareness month? I guess that would explain the very pithy banner recently put up outside of the University Police building that says, “A text or call could wreck it all.” That’s true. I realize that this is the “eat your vegetables” of topics among young people. But, I mean, if you’re thinking about texting while driving, don’t do it.

Of course, distracted driving isn’t relegated to just texting and phone usage. Eating, drinking and adjusting the radio are common ones too. Most of us have probably been guilty of engaging in some form of distracted driving. Last week, I was driving while inhaling a Filet-O-Fish; that sandwich is small enough to wield in one hand, so, at the very least, I can keep my eyes on the road. Even when some tartar sauce fell on my pants, the inner slob in me said, “I’ll get that later,” and I kept my eyes focused on the road.
Still, I probably shouldn’t have been eating a meal while driving.

I’m not going to pretend I’ve never texted while I was driving, but I can count the number of times on one hand. OK, two. The times I’ve texted – or even looked at a received text – I found myself breaking hard and almost rear-ending somebody. I was mad at myself but not concerned at all about getting fined or caught texting; not getting in a horrible wreck was a greater motivator to refrain from texting and driving.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which keeps track of distracted driving laws, text messaging is banned for all drivers in 46 states (including Michigan) and the District of Columbia. There are some exceptions to these laws: medical emergencies, reporting a criminal act or traffic accident, etc.
Despite the laws and threats of fines, people continue to text and drive.

The website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a section on distracted driving and described three types of distractions: visual, manual and cognitive. While there are many things people do while driving that can be distracting, texting is more dangerous because it combines all three; your eyes are off the road, your hands are off the wheel and your mind is taken off driving. What I found most interesting reading through the section was the part that said, “…the effectiveness of cell phone and texting laws on decreasing distracted driving-related crashes requires further study.”

That’s not surprising. It’s very difficult to police this. How can you “nail” someone for texting in the moment? People will continue to text, and there’s not much anyone can do about it except for the person texting. Anecdotally speaking, I’m amazed at how often I notice people doing the ping-pong routine with their eyes as they drive past. I think people are under the assumption that they’ve managed to escape any kind of accident, so they can keep doing it.

Maybe it’s not realistic to think people will ever stop texting and driving, so what I’m suggesting is maybe we can all engage in some distracted driving best practices.

If you need to text while driving, for the love of everything holy, please at least complete the turn before texting. It’s only a couple of more seconds to wait. Then resume texting, if you must (but you shouldn’t).

One time I was heading to campus driving down Mackinaw, and I noticed the car in front of me kept swerving into the other lane. I could see the dude kept holding up his hand and looking at something; upon further examination, it looked like he was trying to take a selfie. While driving. Part of me wanted to see him drive into the ditch. Well, that’s not really true. All of me wanted to see that happen. A terrible thing to say, perhaps, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Next time you drive somewhere and you hear that text message indicator go off, forget it. If your friend is like, “what took you so long to respond?” you can tell them you were being a responsible adult.

Going out on a limb here, but it’s safe to say nobody wants to get into an accident in general, but especially if it’s because of someone texting. More numbers from the CDC: about each day in the U.S., eight people are killed and 1,161 crashes involving distracted drivers. Don’t know this for sure, but I’m willing to bet a good portion of those crashes involved texting or some phone-related distraction. I mean, these are only statistics until you’re on the receiving end.

Let me tell you, if I end up getting in a crash and dying as result of someone texting, like a bad horror movie, I’m going to haunt the ever-loving hell out of that person.