Driven to distraction

When I write a blog, it’s usually a long process. I settle on a topic – which invariably changes as I wander deeper into the murky wood of organizing my thoughts. I stop, start, fiddle, mull, chew my fingernails and cuticles and eventually lay down what all writers know to be the “crappy first draft.” It really is awful. Heavy editing then begins with a vengeance, where I massage word order, seek out an apt metaphor or simile, hone a humorous punchline or contrive the flawless bon mot. I strive to be eloquent and hope to hit the mark. But this time out I didn’t do any of that. You’re getting Trace of Whimsy unplugged, raw and unedited. Because I’m effing livid…

Steve and I hopped on our bikes this afternoon for a ride. We do this several times a week; we vary the route and like to meander through our west side neighbourhoods. So there we were, pedaling along a street that backs onto an elementary schoolground and ahead we could see several cars snaking along the long school driveway, stopping at the curb before merging out onto the street. We were about 20 feet from the driveway and were planning to pedal straight through, assuming the driver had seen us. He had but he didn’t care: he cranked his vehicle right in front of us. It wasn’t a close call; we had time to stop. Normally, I’d put this down to the 80-20 rule: 80 percent of motorists will let a cyclist who has the right-of-way pass by. It’s the 20 percent you worry about and keep cyclists hyper-vigilant.

texting and drivingHe was a twenty per-center but worse: the driver – a man in his late thirties, I’d guess – was on his cellphone. He had a couple kids in the back seat of the pick-up and just gunned it with his phone to his ear, and two cyclists coming up on his left. I yelled, “Get off your phone!” He yelled back, “Get off your bike!” Yeah, like I’m the one breaking the law. Anyhow, lame comeback aside, his behaviour just infuriated me. As we continued our ride, my adrenalin surged wildly as I fumed about this asshat’s behaviour.

What is it going to take for people to get the message about not using their cellphones when driving? What gives him the right to endanger his kids, cyclists, and anyone else on or near the road? He can’t be unaware that distracted driving causes accidents. He can’t think that the rules don’t apply to him. Or does he? I just don’t get it. I just don’t.

This isn’t the first time I’ve told drivers to get off their phones, by the way. When I’m a pedestrian, I deliberately look into cars as I march through the crosswalk. It’s so bloody obvious when someone is texting while they’re sitting at the red light; heads are down and they’re looking at their crotch. I lightly rap the hood of the car (standing off to the side so as not to startle the driver to the point of running over me), and sternly say, “put your phone away!” I have variously been with my husband, sister and friends when I’ve done this and I’m pretty sure I’ve embarrassed them. But I’m unapologetic. These self-centred blockheads need to be called on their actions.

A month or so ago, I was crossing a quiet street with the dog as a car slowly approached. The driver braked reluctantly and I noticed he was holding his phone. I just stood in the middle of the road, stared him down and said firmly, “You need to get off your phone.” The driver – a man wearing a suit and tie, in his mid-50s, I’d guess – rolled down his window and said, “I’m not on my phone, I was just checking a message.”

Me: That’s the same thing. It’s distracted driving and you could hit someone. Like me.

Driver: Get off the road. I’m in a hurry and you need to move.

Me: You need to assure me you won’t check your messages while you’re driving first.

Driver: #@&*%#$@#!

I didn’t want to escalate the situation further so I continued on to the side of the road as he roared off in a statement-huff.

All to say that enough’s enough. I see examples of it every day. I suspect that these people think the risk of getting caught is slim and a fist-waving, grumpy bespectacled semi-senior be damned. But it shouldn’t be about whether or not someone thinks they can get away with it or not. Distracted driving in its many forms is a huge threat to public safety. Crash statistics are sobering proof.

Eating_food_while_driving_jpg-320Whether eating, applying makeup, reaching for something in the back seat or responding like a Pavlovian canine to the incessant ping of a smartphone, when people take their eyes off the road, really awful, life-changing things can and do happen.

So how to get through to those who don’t think that they’re part of the problem (because they haven’t hurt anyone – yet)? Was there something I could have said in the fleeting encounter with the distracted driver at the school that would have made an impression? The issue isn’t limited to self-centred teenagers or specific socio-economic groups or one area of the city. I honestly believe this has reached an epidemic, crisis level that requires radical measures.

You know how drivers signal to oncoming traffic that radar lies ahead? They flash their high beams. Is there something we as a society could adopt that would be an internationally-recognized sign for “stop whatever you’re doing that’s keeping you from watching the road”? If you see someone in your rearview mirror obviously texting, talking on their phone, brushing their teeth, shaving, eating with chopsticks (just ask the police – they’ve seen it all) – is there a shaming signal you can send them that relays the gravity of their actions – and impels them to quit what they’re doing?

Breaking habits is hard. Braking too late can be catastrophic.

Over to you: What say you? Is there something more that can be done – something that would pack more punch than just increasing fines and yelling at distracted drivers? 

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6 Comments on “Driven to distraction

  1. Sadly, I don’t believe there is a magic phrase or gesture that will work on these people until distracted driving, whether thier own or someone else, causes some sort of personal tragedy in thier lives. It especially drives me bonkers when I can see that there are wee children all strapped in to thier car seats in the back while Mommy talks on the phone while driving. YOU HAVE A CHILD IN THE CAR WITH YOU!!!! YOU ARE TEACHING YOUR CHILDREN THAT WHAT YOU’RE DOING IS OK!! Or better still is when there are two people in the car and the driver is texting while the passenger is just sitting there passengering. Really?? You can’t have the passenger text for you? I keep thinking I would like to get a paddle sign with big bold letters on it that says “PUT YOUR F*%#KING PHONE AWAY!” and I can have it sit on the passenger seat beside me and hold it up whenever necessary.

  2. Tracey, my blood boils just reading your post. I feel the same way, though it’s escalated to a point of helplessness….and I feel despondent about its prevalence. I love that you’re taking it into your hands – possibly making a difference – one driver at a time. They may race away in a $#@#* huff. But, I bet they’ll think twice the next time they reach for the phone (well, maybe not everyone, but, hopefully the Dad with the kids in the car).

  3. For gawd’s sake woman, do you want to get killed? Road rage is as rampant as distracted driving. I admire your chutzpah but, seriously, take care who you confront! (BTW – Tracey unplugged is great – let it rip more often.)

    • Karen: I rationalize that at least people don’t carry handguns in their cars: I’d be less likely to shake my gnarled fist at the phone offenders! I also rationalize that if my words made a difference for one person, it’s worth the minimal risk. I’ll never know of course, but I like to think so. And thanks for the props re the unplugged rip. I will do it more often. It actually felt quite good.

  4. I totally agree with you. I have been guilty of checking a message while stopped at a red light and I’m starting to think that I need to turn the sound off and put the phone in my purse where I can’t see it at all! There’s that guilt around not being connected, especially if you’re running a business, that’s just too hard to resist if you’re aware of someone trying to get in touch.

  5. Unfortunately, his actions have zero to do with you, or his car.
    We all know people like this. All his actions are filtered through a very basic, somewhat self-serving, egocentric thinking process. He starts out petulant “I’m not on my phone, I was just texting a message” The sullen, unrepentant child with a circular excuse. Followed by: “Get off the road, I’m in a hurry and you need to move.” since I can read Self Absorbed Jerk, (I had years of training) this translates to “I told you what I was doing, now move it.”
    Once he is out of all this perfectly reasonable chit chat, he brings out the big guns… “%$@##*^.
    This, is who he is. Be careful when you run into another S.A.J. If he is mad enough, and is SURE he can get away with it, he could ramp it up past the big guns. And just to test my psychic ability, I bet he tore off done the street, going through 3 gears in 4 seconds.