I recently returned from a trip to visit friends in Los Angeles. They had recently relocated from New York and, like most New Yorkers, hadn’t had any use for a car until their move. Now they spend what seems like most of their lives in their car. It was surprising to see how quickly they fell back into that “car culture” state-of-mind. Their vehicle not only gets them from here to there, but is also a proxy backpack, locker, kitchen table, entertainment outlet, and communication station.
It had been a while since I have spent that much time in a car. The most notable difference since I last owned a vehicle is the prevalence of cell phones. I never owned a car and a cell phone at the same time, so rules about talking or texting while driving were nonexistent. The last time I drove regularly, it seemed enough of a distraction to be flipping over a cassette tape. I can’t begin to imagine fielding phone calls and texts while trying to merge onto a busy Southern California freeway (in spite of the fact that hand-held devices and texting are now an infraction in the Golden State). Because drivers have the ability to talk on the phone, check email, surf the Web, and text back and forth (all while cruising down the highway,) I have to admit that riding in a car seems scarier than ever before.
There is a new public service announcement (PSA) in England that’s generating a lot of buzz right now, which graphically demonstrates (too graphically, some might say) just how dangerous using a phone while driving can be. (Here’s a link to it, but be warned: It’s not for the squeamish.) It depicts a young driver and her friends getting into a terrible car accident while texting, and the video leaves nothing to the imagination. The ad’s detractors feel that it’s just too violent and disturbing to be shown on television, while supporters argue that these frightening images are just what the public needs to really grasp the dangers of indulging in these distracting behaviors while on the road.
Using cell phones while driving presents a very clear and obvious danger — just look at the terrible mass-transit accidents that occurred recently in California and Massachusetts, which were caused by drivers who were reportedly texting on their phones. And though our intentions to set our phones aside while driving might be honorable and good, it’s just too easy to get sucked into our communication devices. That little ringtone goes off and we think, “What if it’s an emergency?” And so we peek, only to be drawn in to whatever momentary drama is calling our attention away.
Many states have enacted various laws banning texting while driving, and requiring cell phone users to use hands-free headsets while driving, but are they enough? Do we need to outlaw using phones in cars altogether? Our hands may be free, but our minds are still occupied with the person or information on the other end. Of course, when radios were first put into cars, there were fears that they would be too distracting for drivers, but can you imagine a car without one these days? Perhaps we will adjust to managing these new distractions on the road.
How do you drivers out there manage the temptation to use your phones while driving? And what do you think of this controversial PSA? Do you think it goes too far in depicting the dangers of texting while driving, or do you think this is exactly what people need to see to change their behavior?
If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!