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The Importance Of Being Able To Text While Driving

ARE YOU CRAZY!?

That’s what I yelled to a young woman driving in the left lane heading west on the Schuylkill Expressway yesterday at around 3:00. I was in the right lane. She had earphones on. I guess she was listening to her ipod.

Her hands were not on the steering wheel.

That’s because she was texting while she was driving.

She was driving an ’04 or ’05 Honda CRV. I have an ’04 Honda CRV. That’s what I was driving. Love the car. It’s a mini SUV without any bells or whistles and gets good gas mileage. I like that. But to my knowledge it is not equipped with a special steering device such that you can steer the car with your knees. Maybe she was experimenting with that theory. At 60 miles per hour.

I rolled my window down when I yelled at her. Her’s remained up. I think I said something more than just- ARE YOU CRAZY!? I won’t repeat that here. She got the point. But not right away. Because as I let her pass me I saw she was still texting. It appeared she had exceptional thumb skills. So I pulled up along the side of her again. At 63 miles per hour. I stared at her for a second. We made eye contact. She stopped texting. She wouldn’t look my way again. I exited at Conshohocken and she went on towards King of Prussia. Maybe she resumed her highway texting further on down the road.

This was not the first time I’ve seen this. A few months ago I was in the right lane, again on the Schuylkill Expressway, and an SUV is passing me on the left. The guy driving was texting. His wrists were on the steering wheel, so his cellphone was above the steering wheel, and I could see he was focusing on the phone, and then glancing at the road. He was passing me in the left lane. I had to be going 60. He had to be going 65. He had a little boy in the front seat. Another guy was in the back seat.

How stupid are these people!

As a driver witnessing this what are you supposed to do? I don’t know. Call 911 on your cell phone so the State Police can be notified? I guess, but by the time the police get on the highway the crazy texting driver will be long gone. Steer clear? Sure.

 

Melissa Heckscher of the Paramus Post wrote the following story in November 2006. Pretty much sums it up.

But because text messaging is a newer phenomenon, having become popular in the past two to three years, drivers’ safety studies have focused on using the phone to talk, not to send messages. So which is worse?Without concrete data to go on, researchers such as Steven Yantis, a cognitive psychologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, ventured a guess.

“Common sense would tell me that (texting) would be worse because you have to look away from the road,” he said.

Yantis is an expert in multitasking. His research has centered on what happens in the brain when people try to pay attention to multiple sources of information. Yantis hasn’t directly researched the effects of multitasking while driving, but the bottom line is this: When attention shifts toward one area, it drifts away from another.

“Most people think they’re better at multitasking than they really are, and that’s because most of the time, errors have no consequences,” he said. “When you’re driving, even half a second of distraction could, at the right circumstances, have disastrous consequences.”

Just ask Patrick Sims. In 2005, the then 17-year-old Colorado resident struck and killed a bicyclist while tending to a text message. His sentence included nine days in jail and 300 hours of community service to be spent telling others his story.”That day, that text message seemed important to me,” Sims told The Denver Post. “Now I couldn’t even tell you what it said.”

That same year, a 26-year-old Tennessee man died after he reportedly lost control of his truck while trying to send a text message.

“When you’re texting, you’re having to do a manual task and a visual task,” Yantis said. “That has to be worse than just talking on a cell phone.”

Teenagers are at particular risk. A survey by the Liberty Mutual insurance company found that teens rated text messaging as the greatest driving distraction, followed by their emotional state and having several friends in the car at the same time.

 

In the words of California Highway Patrol Officer Joe Zizi, quoted in Ms. Heckscher’s article:

“People will say, ‘I’m sorry, I was on my cell phone, I didn’t realize how fast I was going. God forbid you crash and kill someone. Are you going to tell that to the family of the deceased?”

 

Is there a place for cellphones in the car? Yes, the center console or glove compartment. I know that sounds unrealistic. You get in your car. The cellphone is in your pocket or in your pocketbook. You want it out and available for all sorts of reasons. Maybe your kids are calling wanting to know what’s for dinner, or they need help with their homework. Maybe you’re waiting to close an important business deal.  But the statistics on cellphone use while driving leading to bad accidents are just too disturbing. Add texting? Forget about it.

Cellphones are undoubtedly a valuable tool to have in your car in the event of a mechanical breakdown, illness, or driving emergency. We want to be able to reach it quickly if we need to. But how important is that incoming call?

That young woman on the Schuylkill driving next to me thought she was safe; she thought  that she had extra skills, like some character out of the movie The Matrix. No way. She was just kidding herself.

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