As a father of two teenage children, I’m constantly preaching the gospel of safe driving.  Pay attention at all times.  Drive defensively.  Don’t speed.  Use your directional before turning.  Don’t pass on the right.  You know, all that driving school stuff!  Driving itself isn’t difficult.  The difficulty lies in keeping your head on a swivel at all times in order to avoid the motorists who aren’t paying attention, because they’re distracted.  And so help me God if I find you talking on your cellphone.

Look, I understand that I learned to drive at a different time.  When I started driving, cellphones weren’t around.  The primary distraction in a vehicle was the radio.  When you wanted to change a channel, you had to do it manually while looking down.  Today, most vehicles let you do that by pressing a button on your steering wheel, so you never have to take your eyes off the road.  It’s a brilliant innovation, but unfortunately it means we’ve just moved on to shiny new handheld distractions.

“But I need my phone!”  I drove a vehicle for nearly 20 years without having a cellphone, and I survived to tell the tale!  So, no, you don’t.  That was back when payphones were still around.  If the need arose to make a phone call while you were driving, you simply pulled over, dropped a coin in the slot, and made your call.  Seems like ancient times, but it really wasn’t that long ago.  Nowadays, it might be tough to find a coin-op phone, but there’s nothing stopping you from pulling over whenever you need to take or make a call, or even waiting until you reach your destination.

I think the most ubiquitous image in today’s society is someone looking at their cellphone.  People are on them all, and I mean all, the time.  Young, old, male, female…it doesn’t matter who you are.  We as a society are addicted to the cellphone and it’s having an impact on many aspects of our life, and that includes public safety.  Next time you go to a shopping mall, sit down for a minute and observe the people walking around.  It looks like a scene from Dawn of the Dead with virtually everyone looking down at their phone while walking slowly in a semi-catatonic state.  This in its own right is scary and disturbing!

It seems as though we’re always looking at life through our phones.

For some reason, we have evolved into a society that feels the need to talk or text or check emails on the phone constantly.  On the weekends, I’m often at the gym at 6 a.m.  While my gym has a “cellphone conversations in the lobby only” policy, everyone seems to ignore it as they routinely talk or text on the phone while using the treadmill.  Who is it you’re communicating with at 6 a.m.?  It can’t be your family member, right?  You just left the house.  Maybe it’s a friend at another gym violating their cellphone policy?  Regardless of who it is, nobody else wants to listen to if you are talking on the telephone.

Maybe I sound like an old-timey curmudgeon, but at least I’m an old-timey curmudgeon who cares– about your safety and my own.  I think everyone tacitly acknowledges that it’s not safe to operate your cellphone and a vehicle simultaneously, but the next time you’re out driving, take note of the drivers around you.  How many have their phones in their hand?  It’s as if we’ve forgotten how to drive anywhere without being engaged in a conversation at the same time.  We might say the right things about distracted driving, but we sure don’t act like it.

Legislation among states is all over the map.  Forty-seven states prohibit texting while driving, a ridiculously dangerous behavior.  Strangely enough, however, only 16 states prohibit talking on a handheld cellphone.  This means that there are motorists in 34 states who can look down while they’re driving to dial a number and it’s not illegal.  Does that make any sense at all?  Your eyes are removed from the road either way.

I work in insurance, so I see claims that involve distracted driving all the time.  But perhaps you need to be reminded of some statistics? The Facts in the infographic below all come from the National Safety Council and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Let’s dispel some of the ideas about distracted driving.

The NSC also reports that 94% of drivers support a ban on texting while driving, and yet they also estimate that on any given day in America, 660,000 people are on their phones while driving.  This problem is only exacerbated for teenage drivers.  According to the NSC…

…while 94% of teen drivers think texting and driving is unsafe, but 35% of those admit to doing it anyway.

…21% of teen drivers in fatal accidents were distracted by their phones.

…teens are 4 times more likely than adults to get into crashes while on a phone.

The bottom line is that for three straight years, 40,000 Americans have died on our roads. Many of those deaths were entirely avoidable.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  This is a serious public safety issue, and it’s time for the Federal Government to realize that it’s going to get worse, not better, over time.  That’s going to mean a bit of tuning out the cellphone lobby and its 236.5 million consumers, who may not necessarily embrace legislation limiting cellphone use while driving.  After all, what kind of economic loss could the industry expect if Americans suddenly stopped using their phones on their 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. commutes?

It’s also true that texting while driving is nearly impossible to enforce, so people are likely to continue to do it.  That’s no excuse.  There are states where someone can be traveling 70 miles per hour, be looking down at their phone, and it’s not illegal.  Truth be told, we should be talking about a ban on handheld cellphone use as the starting point.  Let’s see the Federal Government work with auto manufacturers and cellphone companies to come up with some measures to prevent the things that are difficult to effectively enforce from happening.  All calls should be done in a hands-free manner, and texting by the operator of a moving vehicle should be disabled entirely.  There should be no exceptions, period!

Until drivers are required by both law and technology to pull over somewhere safe before using their phones, however, there’s another thing we can do.  As a society, we can start taking this issue much more seriously.  If you’re one of the people that texts while driving, try to stop.  If you’re in the car with a friend or family member that uses their phone while driving, ask them to stop.  Failing to do so could have a profound impact on your life, or the life of someone else.  You may think that’s unlikely, but so did 390,000 other Americans last year. 

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