Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Distracted Driving

"Ultimately, a day we envision a few years down the road is when we all look back and say, 'Remember those days when we used to talk on the cell phone while driving. Boy wasn't that a stupid thing to do',”


This statement comes from David Teater, whose son was killed six years ago by a driver who ran a red light while talking on the phone. David is part of a new national advocacy group called FocusDriven that aims at changing the way the American public thinks about using cell phones while driving.


U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood promoted FocusDriven, calling them an “army of advocates” whose mission will be to persuade people to put away their cell phones. “We’re going to push for public education, personal responsibility, and enforcement. Enforcement comes with laws.”

One law that FocusDriven advocates hope to see uses GPS technologies that can literally block a person from making and receiving calls or sending texts while in a moving vehicle.

Secretary LaHood told CBS' "The Early Show" he will push “very hard” for a nationwide ban on cell phone use while driving.

Currently six states have banned using hand-held cell phones while driving. Nineteen states have banned texting while driving. Texas recently passed a law prohibiting hand-held cell phone use or texting while in a school zone.

I remember using a cell phone in the car for the first time back in graduate school in 1993. Do you remember those clunkers? We had one “mobile” phone in our family that I borrowed three nights a week for my hour-long commute to/from campus. Even then, what began as a contingency for emergencies evolved into amazing convenience. Call home if you’re stuck in traffic and are going to be late. Receive a call if Mom wants you to pick up something on the way. It’s often hard to remember now that not too long ago we didn’t have 24/7 contact with each other.

Also, using the mobile phone then was not as flippantly casual as it has become today. Back then it was a very serious thing to take my eyes off the road long enough to pick up the phone, punch the numbers in, and hold the phone on my ear.

I don’t think there is any argument that driving while on the telephone is distracting, but so is driving with another person talking to you whether it’s the radio, your children, or a passenger. Even with the radio or kids in the backseat, I’m able to recognize when I need to focus more attention to what I’m doing. I’ve purposefully turned down the radio or said to my daughters, ‘Be quiet – I need to really concentrate for a minute” while getting on the highway or looking for a place to turn in. This judgment is invaluable when using the telephone as well. I’ll admit I’ve been on the phone (hand-held) and had to say “I’ll call you back” or literally just put it down entirely to concentrate on driving.

Texting is a different matter. Personally, I’m firmly against texting while driving. It’s a whole different level of distraction. Texting takes your eyes off the road and requires a specific concentration. If I receive a text while driving, I wait until I’m sitting at a stoplight to read or answer it. I’ve also asked one of my daughters to read it to me.

Earlier this year Ford introduced new features utilizing Microsoft Sync technology in their cars that will allow drivers to access their tweets, emails, and other social media via hands free voice-command. When I first heard about this, I immediately thought of the first time someone tried to install their home radio in their early automobile, and how Motorola took the idea and began installing one of the first commercially available car radios in the world.

So I have mixed feelings about pushing through new laws, especially ones that might block cell phone providers from allowing information (text, internet, calls) to be accessed while in a moving vehicle. Actually, the more I think about it, having a law that prevents a call from being made or received while the unit is “moving” could never be passed. There just isn’t any tangible way to limit application of the law to a person engaged in the act of driving and not riding as a passenger.

I believe that education, not legislation, is the key to making us all better drivers. We need to stop and remember that driving is a responsibility; we are responsible not only for our own safety, but also our passengers and others on the road.

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