My wife and I went out for pizza tonight and found the street blocked before the entrance to our favorite pizza restaurant. In the roadway yellow police tape had cordoned off an obvious accident scene, as the local police major crime squad went about the task of documenting the crash site. Standing upright in the center of the roadway was what was left of a motorcycle. On the sidewalk the rider’s lone boot stood starkly. Pieces of what was the bike were scattered over an area that was marked by large patches of sand where the hapless rider’s blood had stained the roadway. A waitress said it was a fatality; the online edition of the paper reported that the rider was alive but critical.
That same news report claimed that a youthful driver had fled the scene. The same waitress said she had heard the driver of the hit and run car had been talking on her cell phone. I couldn’t shake the images all evening. I had recently come to terms with age and diminishing reflexes and sold my own motorcycle. Sitting in that restaurant, looking out the window at the grisly scene validated that decision many times over.
For whatever reason I have begun to take note more and more of the numbers of drivers who text and drive. Ask yourselves whether you can recall someone swerving in front of you or glancing down at their hands when you look in your rearview mirror at them. Ask yourselves how many times in the course of week, you’ve encountered some thoughtless texter. How many times in the course of a day?
Distracted driving is becoming epidemic. I wondered if someone is keeping statistics on the number of collisions caused by careless texters. Someone is. The website www.distraction.gov is the official U. S. Government website on distracted driving. The information displayed is alarming.
One article chronicled the recent homicide conviction in Wisconsin of a 21 year old woman who, while texting and taking calls, rammed her van into a stranded young motorist standing behind his car, killing him. His life and her life both ended in that careless moment when her eyes were off the road and she was engaged in a cyber conversation. How critical could that message have been that it demanded the death of a stranger for her to respond?
As I read that article I thought again of the young woman allegedly responsible for the crash outside the pizza palace tonight. If that rider was lucky enough to survive what will be the quality of his life? And what of the youngster who is alleged to have panicked and fled? I have defended such drivers. They aren’t hardened criminals. They are generally decent people who checked their common sense at the garage door when they decided that driving and communicating are essential together.
Oddly enough I thought about the navigation system in my car and my wife’s car. Two different manufacturers, but a common limitation. You cannot operate either navigation system while the car is in motion. Even the front seat passenger can’t do it. So why not build that safety limitation into vehicles or smartphones? How critical is that brief, cryptic message that it is worth sacrificing lives and futures to send at that moment. Makes you wonder why they really should be called smartphones; certainly the ones busily typing aren’t all that smart.
The Wisconsin news article referenced a study by AT&T that among youngsters 15 to 19 63% send at least 21 text messages a day. Alarmingly, 43% admit to texting while driving and of that group 97% acknowledge that it is dangerous. The article further notes that it is not just kids, but that 43% of adults polled admitted to texting while driving. Certainly what I have seen on the highways recently suggests that those numbers fall short of the real mark.