Distracted Driving Detox

When I was young, we had a rotary telephone on the kitchen counter (for those of you under 40, you may have seen one of these babies in a museum!). When someone wanted to get in touch, they called and the phone rang. If no one was home, the caller eventually gave up because there was nothing called an answering machine then. Those came later with those tiny little cassette tapes. If no one was home to answer the phone, you were disappointed, but simply called back. In the intervening years (you can guess how many), we have seen the aforementioned answering machine which morphed into voice mail, fax machines that sent documents over the phone line, email, cell phones and text messaging. Smart phone with games and web browsers, text messaging and email access are the norm now for most of us and we are addicted.

We are addicted to being connected and as with most other addictions, its killing us.

Few people would argue that they can text and drive safely, and most now accept that handheld cell phones are equally dangerous while many will continue to argue that hands-free calling is safe because it does not involve manipulating the phone while driving. All the research is contrary to this as the distraction is not principally as a result of using your hands; it’s the cognitive distraction that results from processing the conversation while simultaneously attempting to attend to the driving task.

GPS, mobile music players, radios, and any other activity that pulls your attention from driving is a distraction as are the ongoing challenges of children and pets as well as other passengers.

Auto makers are now including technology that will allow drivers to interface with the web, manage text messages and email as well into new vehicles which causes me great concern. While they assure us that they will recommend that this technology is used in a responsible way while not driving, the seductive lure of instant information is, I fear, too great for many to resist.

How many of you have heard the tone for a text, email, voicemail or the ringer of your phone while driving and responded with “just a quick peek?”. I’m guilty, (or was before getting data-sober) and I feel guilt because I’m supposed to be a safety professional. I know the risks, laws and penalties and I have had that quick peek.

So I guess I’m addicted too. I recognized my addiction slowly as I came out of denial and at first tried (as many others addicted to alcohol and drugs will) to control my compulsion to use my device constantly, even while driving and I was somewhat successful at leaving it alone but the temptation was great; particularly if I was expecting a call or waiting for a text or email. I tried to be a good boy and pull over to answer the phone and only check text messages at traffic lights. This created a whole new set of distraction issues as I looked for a quick, easy, safe spot to pull over where often there was none and recognized that taking my eyes off an intersection while waiting for the green was just as dangerous (and illegal) as texting while moving.

Cold turkey was the only real solution. Now I turn off the phone or switch it to silent when I get in the vehicle. Problem solved. I can check when I have reached my destination or plan a stop to deal with business along the way.

Recently, I had the good fortune to travel in regions where my mobile phone didn’t work and even spent a week on a boat where there was no internet connection at all. The world didn’t end, my business continued to operate under the guidance of my staff, and I detoxed from the addiction. I recognized that I can indeed turn back the clock to when someone called and I didn’t answer; they would just have to wait, as would I until I was able to connect safely. It was kinda nice, totally out of contact. Weird, but nice.

Written by: Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver

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