Thursday, August 27, 2009

I'm Not Sure They'll Listen. . . .

I'll bet this has happened to you. It's already happened to me a few times. The other day I'm driving down the local interstate at a pretty good clip. I'm in the right lane. An on-ramp is coming up. I see a car gaining speed as the driver readies to merge. I move to the left lane and the car merges as we're right next to each other. I glance over at the driver. He's not paying attention to the road. He has one hand on the wheel, one hand on his cell phone, and both eyes focused on writing a text message as he looks in the direction of his lap. I don't know the guy's birth name, but I - alone in the car - refer to him out-loud as "you idiot." Sorry. I think he earned it.

Have you seen this? Have you done this?

There's been lot's of banter lately about people who text while driving. Our texting-addicted teens are perhaps most prone to this dangerous new practice, and I'm sure we're going to be hearing more and more stories from law-enforcement, the judicial system, and legislators about the potential dangers and horrifying results of texting while driving. Any of us who drive know that a car is a potential weapon whether intended to be or not. And, we know that momentary distractions can be dangerous and even deadly.

When I was 16 I was on the receiving end. There were no cell phones. But back in those days, papers and others things would blow off seats and onto the floor. I was newly licensed and recently hired by a lawn mower repair shop. The owner thought that I would do a good job driving his truck and trailer to deliver mowers to customers. Early one Saturday morning he taught me 1) how to drive his stick-shift pickup (can you say "neck brace?"), and 2)how to drive with a trailer hitched to the rear. Needless to say, I was very nervous. Only two miles into my first delivery, I pulled up to a stop sign at an intersection. Another driver made a wide turn at the intersection and hit me head-on. I saw it coming. I also saw him in the driver's seat. . . . looking at the floor instead of out of his windshield. He admitted his fault and blamed his inattention to the road on his preoccupation with a paper that had blown off his seat and onto the floor. I learned a lesson due to someone else's mistake.

When I was 25 I was on the giving end. I was driving with my new wife and lots of morning traffic through Boston's Callahan Tunnel. I looked into the left lane when it appeared that the guy next to me was drifting over. While looking at him, traffic in front of us came to a stop. I didn't. Enough said.

Perhaps you've seen the much-publicized new PSA video from a police department in Wales that's designed to scare kids into thinking twice about texting while driving. Give it a look. A texting teen causes an accident that leaves four people dead.

But will it work? How will teens respond? Realistically speaking, I don't think it's going to do much good. . . and it makes me sad to say that. Think about teenagers for a minute. They're risk-takers. They feel invulnerable. They are impulsive. And, while they know that these things do happen, they think that they will "never happen to me." Add to that the fact that the horror of this video is tempered by years of desensitizing media violence, and I'm sure many kids will see it as a mildly entertaining curiosity or even a lame attempt by adults to get the message across. Of course, that's not to say that it won't effect some kids. . . which is a good thing.

After watching the video for the first time, I thought back to the cinematic scare tactics I was forced to endure during my own high school Driver's Ed class. To be honest, me and most of my adolescent male friends actually looked forward to the days when the lights in the classroom would go down, the clackety-clack of the 16mm projector would begin, and we'd get to ooh and aah at some real-life blood and guts in films like the 1959 classic, "Signal 30." It was one of the most-looked-forward-to aspects of education at my high school. Our teacher, Mr. Vagner, would dramatically kick a metal trash can over near our female classmates for their use, just in case. As we watched, the unspoken assumptive response shared by us all was a simple, "That will never happen to me." We were teenagers.

So, what do we do with all this? The problem is only going to get worse. The combination of cars and technology can be deadly if not used in God-glorifying ways. There's nothing wrong with cars. There's nothing wrong with cellphones. But if we implement these neutral structures in dangerous and irresponsible directions we're only asking for trouble. Driver training - which we're doing with one of our kids now - has to include instructions on how to keep your eye on the road, how to eliminate distractions, and how to keep your hands off your phone.

I hope they get the message. What do you think?


Barb said...

I definately think cell phone use and texting should be against the law while driving. Driving takes 100% opf your attention.

Fi S said...

Hi Walt,

In New Zealand we have the same issue, in fact they are running an ad on tv to discourage drivers from talking on their phones whilst driving, they cite the statistic that you are 4 times more likely to have a car accident whilst talking on the phone, or being distracted (but the phone is the focus).

It is about to come into NZ law that it will be illegal to text, or talk or cell phones whilst driving. You will loose demerit points (you are only allowed to loose a certain amount before you loose your licence - I can't remember how much on both accounts)

On tonights news they showed Kiwi kids reactions to the very ad which you have shared. Unfortunately I didn't catch it, but they showed teens the video, and then gauged their reaction. I tried to find the clip, but for some reason, Youtube isn't playing nicely. I wonder if the NZ kids reaction is the same as what we all expect.

I was thinking the other day of how quickly the trend of texting whilst driving has invaded our culture. Why are we so impatient to not be in touch with another? Why are we not able to wait until we get to our destination to check our messages? Adults are as much to blame as teens. I am constantly having to remind myself that the young people who I work with are watching me, watching my habits, they're picking tips up off me, (and I want them to be for the better), and as a consequence I need to hold this responsibilty in high regard. The phone needs to stay in my pocket - in fact, I should really turn it off as I get in my car!

It will be interesting to see just how many people will obey the law and leave the phones alone whilst driving.

Anonymous said...

what do you think about a car key on, cell phone locking system?