there’s no hard evidence at the moment that the driver who took two lives this past weekend and injured two others was engaged in distracted driving, though it’s becoming quite a bit more clear that she had no business behind the wheel of a car in the first place. still, this incident and countless others i’ve read about in the news and that have been shared across social media in recent months… no… recent years…
years of people dying on our roads. and many of these deaths have in fact been caused by distracted driving, or at the very least, by callous, unthinking driving (or worse). and i suppose those are all the same things.
we have to fix this. and it starts with me.
i spend a lot of time on the road as a cyclist. a whole lot. and i deal with the close calls, the near misses, the idiocy. i try to be predictable and responsible when i’m riding. but it happens daily. i’m out there. i’m a life. and there are a lot of folks behind the wheel who just don’t care. i accept the risk. but it’s not easy. and i never forget the danger. it’s not possible. (and it’s gotten a lot worse in the last 3-5 years.)
i also drive a car. and i’m not blameless. i speed. i become impatient at times. i try to be very conscious of the dangers i pose to other motorists, cyclists and pedestrians while i’m behind the wheel. but i’m imperfect.
i’ve never been a texter. for whatever reason - maybe it was just a generational thing, maybe it was that i couldn’t afford a smartphone for a while, maybe i’m just not that interested in what you’re up to because i’m a wee bit narcissistic - that technology kind of skipped me by. i’m thankful for it. if i need to contact someone, i’ll email, i’ll call, i’ll IM. but i don’t text. i occasionally receive the things, but i’m slow to respond. i don’t even have a texting plan. i really don’t care.
but i do check my email. and i do check my facebook and twitter and instagram notifications and timelines (and i update same). and i do take pictures with my phone. i listen to podcasts and music on my phone. and i do… i do all of these things… from behind the wheel. not always. i’d call myself a mild to moderate phone user in the car. but it’s frequent enough.
and i’m going to stop.
lately, i’ve been making an effort to unplug. i recently laid down some rules at home, one of which: no distractions at the table. i have a wife and a four year old child. we don’t spend much time together, despite residing under the same roof. i make my living staring and poking at mobile devices and i’m very fortunate to have a job like that. but enough is enough. i can give my family a couple of hours of uninterrupted attention at home. some of this is about them and about my need to untether from the feed. and… let’s be honest. you guys are great and all, but you’re just not that interesting.
i can’t drive and operate my phone safely. i just can’t. and you can’t either. those are the facts. lives are in the balance. we have to grow up and accept responsibility here. we have to stop. we have to pay attention.
i’m sure there’s some online petition i could sign or some way i could collect and display a badge or buy a sign or sticker for my car or some app i could install that will tweet my wrongs should i drive distracted again. but i’m not going to worry about any of these things. i’m just going to stop.* it starts with me. and it stops, for me, now. i’ll catch up with you later.
*i’m still going to listen to podcasts and music. i do a lot of road trips. i’ll take the occasional (hands-free) phone call if it’s important (but really, no one calls me unless it’s important - and also no one calls me). but that’s the end of it.
postscript: a few states have implemented anti-distracted driving laws and/or outright bans on phone use in cars. i’ve always obeyed these laws and i applaud them. enforcement is a challenge, however, and the difficultly in proving that someone was actually driving distracted is one of the many things that have held up these laws in the courts. that and the cell phone lobby.