Distracted drivingWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
On my morning drive April 4, I ran a red light, grazed a deer, blew through a stop sign, clipped a pedestrian at a crosswalk, sideswiped a car and was ticketed for several traffic violations.
It was all my fault; I was chatting with a passenger, texting on my phone and checking messages while I was driving.
Fortunately, all of that happened during a session in a Distracted Driving Simulator in the lobby of Owens Corning. But it was a harsh reminder of a common sense principle we all ignore: You cannot safely drive if your attention is divided.
The simulator is a three-monitor setup with a steering wheel, gas pedal and brake on the floor. I drove through the realistic video for about seven minutes, trying to watch all the mirrors and environmental challenges, while a passenger voice gave directions and an on-screen cellphone flashed messages and asked for answers.
The simulator, an Ohio Department of Transportation project, has been touring Ohio, with stops this week at SSOE, the University of Toledo and Oregon’s municipal complex. It ought to be in every high school and workplace, to remind people that when they are driving, they are in control of a lethal torpedo that is one of the most effective instruments of murder ever invented.
According to Matt Schroder, senior leader of corporate communications, Owens Corning has gone beyond simply offering the simulator by recently making it official policy for employees to leave the cellphone alone when driving: “Drivers are prohibited from utilizing a cellphone (hand-held or hands-free) to conduct company business while the vehicle is in operation or while driving on company property.
- Includes texting, checking emails, accepting incoming calls or placing a call unless the vehicle is completely stopped and properly parked in a safe location.
- Including handheld, hands-free or an in-vehicle installed system.”
The statistics are brutal. According to the State Highway Patrol of Ohio, “Driving while texting or talking on the phone is considered more dangerous than driving at .08 blood alcohol content. Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of close calls involve a driver’s lack of attention within three seconds before the event.”
A fact sheet handed out by SSOE, which has a similar policy prohibiting talking and texting on a cellphone to conduct company business while driving, contained these statistics:
- Driver distraction is a contributor in 93 percent of rear-end collisions.
- Driving while using a cell phone reduces brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent.
- 18-to-20-year-olds are four times as likely to be involved in a distracted driving accident than drivers more than 35 years old.
The National Safety Council has also weighed in:
- Communities that enact bans on hand-held devices but continue to allow hands-free devices see no reduction in the number of crashes after bans take effect.
- Each year, more than 1.1 million crashes (25 percent of all crashes) are attributed to cellphone use, accounting for 500,000 injures and 5,000 deaths. This works out to more than 3,000 crashes, 1,300 injuries, and 13 deaths every day.
- A new study of company vehicle fleet crash rates reveals the top safety performers are companies with policies enacting a total ban on cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) that enforce such policies.
Of course, it’s not just cell phones. People eat and drink in their cars, engage in personal grooming and distract themselves with navigation systems, videos, radios, CD and MP3 players and all kinds of curious behavior. When I lived in South Florida and drove I-95 every day (home to the rudest drivers I’ve ever encountered, although some of the people on Brint Road in Sylvania and Secor Road in Toledo are pretty bad), I saw people engaged in reckless behavior that ranged from openly drinking from beer cans to makin’ babies, two activities which are reckless enough on stable, dry land.
I am a much better driver when my wife and kids are in the car than I am when I am driving solo. I am definitely guilty of talking on the cellphone and occasionally texting as I make my way to and from work.
It’s a hard habit to break, but after plowing through the streets of the distracted driving simulator like Homer Simpson fighting Peter Griffin for the steering wheel, I have a greater understanding of the dangers I am ignoring.
I signed the pledge to put the cellphone down when I drive, but the incentive of my family is all I need. Whether using the phone while driving gets me killed with or without them in the car, I’d be just as dead, and there is simply nothing on that BlackBerry that can’t wait.
I used to tell people that, like the bad guy in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” who grabs the burning medallion and sears its design into his hand, I have the BlackBerry “B” imprinted in my palm from holding it so much.
After failing the distracted driving simulator, I plan on working to make sure that “B” begins to fade from my grasp.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.