Last week on Facebook I ran into a post by a person in crisis. I don’t know the individual, but her situation was distressing.
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“Marie” and a male companion were completely stopped at a roundabout on a road into Aspen when they were hit at 45 mph by a young female driver who was looking down. Marie says that the assailant was “most likely on her phone checking her evening plans. She never looked up to see we were stopped.”
Marie and her companion were “whisked away in an ambulance praying our necks and spines were not broken.” She says, “fear for my children and our future overwhelmed me.”
A week later, although relieved to be alive for her children, Marie still suffers from severe unspecified injuries. “Not being capable of making my children’s breakfast this morning from pain and nausea,” she says, “has propelled me to speak out.”
She continues, “We are all responsible for our actions while driving. Our actions can change lives in unimaginable painful ways.”
Her post received many comments from her friends. Most expressed love and concern. Many praised her for posting about the dangers of checking your phone while driving.
A few responses struck me as cagey, as if perhaps the writers masked their own guilt by praising Marie’s message. They wrote things like, “It’s important to be reminded” and “Such great food for thought for everyone.”
I could have been one of those cagey writers.
Although I have not read e-mail or sent a text while driving, I’ve done other things I’m not proud of. That very day, on a ride to the airport, I realized that my phone wasn’t linked to my headset so I placed it on the seat next to me and pushed a couple of buttons to connect to Bluetooth.
I then used my headset to make a legal phone call, but I felt guilty about those moments I looked down.
I have also applied lipstick in my car and hunted around for my next CD. I’m more than a little familiar with the urge to check e-mail that hits when you’re waiting in a very long line at a traffic light.
Our government says that 3,092 people died in 2010 in “distraction-affected” crashes, which suggests that a far higher number of people were injured. As more people, including older adults like me, get attached to their Smart phones, that number keeps going up.
What should we do?
Driving to Sacramento Airport the other day, I passed the “Cell Phone Lot.” Built in response to an overwhelming number of circling cars, it serves since 2009 as a place where you can park for free until you get a call from the people you’re meeting.
It gave me an idea.
I hope that in town, the battle against cell phone use while driving will be won eventually via high numbers of tickets and relentless campaigning, and because people have the easy alternative of pulling over to text.
The problem is more intractable on country roads or on the freeway where it is often quiet and a moment of distracted driving seems acceptable. Nobody will see you, especially at night. The urge to check your cell phone can become irresistible on a long, dull road.
What if during such a stretch, you saw a sign that said, “Texting Turnout”?
The turnout could be a marked deep shoulder or an off-ramp that has an easy return to the freeway. I imagine people stopping briefly, checking texts and sending e-mail. A positive byproduct would be renewed energy for the drive.
Building turnouts and posting signs would cost money, of course, but there could be shortcuts. We could use existing rest stops and park-n-ride locations. Perhaps a universal “texting turnout” symbol could be created and added to exit signs where there is an easy return.
I also imagine signs that encourage patience like, “Texting Turnout 10 miles.”
I like my idea because it has a positive spin: it acknowledges our compelling need to communicate but offers a safe way to do it.
But as soon as I described my idea to my husband, he saw problems, “too expensive” being the main one. I freely admit that mechanical solutions to psychological problems are not my strong suit.
How about other ideas? An app already exists that will silence your phone when you get in the car. Could we be required by law to use it?
How about random checkpoints, like we have for drunk driving, where police check cell phones to make sure people haven’t recently sent texts?
If you’re already thinking of problems with these ideas, so am I. But we need something.
I worry about texting in particular because I believe it is more dangerous than phone calling (it requires longer looking at the phone) and because I learned over the holidays that texting is more common than ever, even among the older crowd.
The image of aging baby boomers sending texts and emoticons from their cars while driving the freeway is enough to make anyone squirm.
Whatever the solutions may be, we need to find them soon.
I’d like to be saved from myself.
Marion Franck is a columnist for the Davis Enterprise. She is a part-time resident of El Dorado County.