Friday, June 05, 2009

Must you really take that call?

So Ontario's going ahead with the Driving While Distracted law, which essentially bans talking on a handheld phone while driving.

Good. I'd like to ask what took them so long, but that would be cheeky. What matters is they've finally taken concrete steps toward getting drivers to focus on, you know, their driving.

Sadly, there's a massive gulf between the law and reality. Yesterday morning, a 17-year-old boy lost control of his Jeep after he reached for his ringing phone. He died, while his 16-year-old female passenger was injured.

Since news of this senseless tragedy hit the top of the local news run, I've been wondering what it is about a ringing phone that seems so important to us all. Why do we feel compelled to disconnect from everything we're doing at that moment - chatting with a friend, eating dinner and, yes, driving the car - to grab for the phone and speak with whoever's on the other end? Do we think the world will end if we don't answer? Do we feel like we'll miss some golden opportunity?

While driving the kids home from school recently, I noticed the driver of the minivan next to me looking down repeatedly as we pulled away from a red light. I glanced over and, sure enough, she had her flip phone open, and she was looking at the screen as she dialed. As her car accelerated. And as it drifted toward mine.

I honked her and pointed toward her phone. She put it down and kept on going, doubtless angry at the nasty minivan-driving man who had the temerity to remind her to avoid smacking into everyone around her. If this were an isolated incident, I'd let it go. But every day, I see drivers everywhere so engaged in their Motorolas and iPhones that they literally have no connection to what's going on around them.

I just don't know what it'll take to collectively wake us up. We can have all the laws in the world to define in- and out-of-bounds behavior, but they'll never come close to stopping an accepted behavior that's at the root of a frightening percentage of violent car accidents.

So please accept my apologies for not having any answers. I guess I needed an end-of-week opportunity to rant at yet another example of humanity's inability to make proper use of technology, and people's utter selfishness in assuming their right to make and receive phone calls while controlling incalculable momentum trumps everyone else's right to get home safely.

Your turn: Thoughts?


Alison said...

In 1998, I was living in France and didn't yet have a cell phone. However, a local politician was killed in a car accident that year. She'd been talking on her cell phone.

I got a cell phone in early 2000, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've used it in the car.

My point is, this woman's death was a wake-up call for me, even though I wasn't even using the technology at the time. How many more people have to die before we all "get it"?

There's so much more I could say here, but I'm going to refrain, because your post hit a nerve and I need to calm down.

b13 said...

Let's not forget seatbelt use also. Excellent post Carmi.

David Edward said...

i am guilty as charged
but thanks to kind folks like you I will think about it before i grab for it next time

rashbre said...

no use of handhelds in car allowed in uk (except when parked)

Mamie said...

I so wish we would get the same law in NC. When my adult children are traveling, I waver between wanting to call them and envisioning them looking over to find their cell phone, away from the traffic. My husband is addicted to his phone also, and many times has had to slam on brakes because he was distracted by a ringing phone or cell phone conversation. Heart attack city.

I also agree with the contention that when someone answers a phone while in conversation with someone in person, they are saying, "You are less important than ANYONE WHO MIGHT BE CALLING ME!"

Great post, Carmi.

Carolyn R. Parsons said...

I have talked on my cell phone before I realised how incredibly stupid it was but now, no, not at all. I have seen people texting on the phone while driving, that really is crazy.

Even at home I don't always answer the phone, people get really irritated with me, and I tell them my phone is for my convenience and if it's inconvenient for me to answer at this moment then I don't answer. I dont' feel compelled to do so just because it rang.

I also turn the ringer of a lot.

Excellent post as usual Carmi


photowannabe said...

Its a law now in handheld phones while driving. People still ignore it though. Most of the time I can tell when someone is using their phone. They drive slower than the flow of traffic and tend to want to be in my lane too. I can't believe people text while driving. How stupid is that? Nothing is that important to lose one's life over. Let voice mail take the call and take care of the matter later. So much self importance.

Nikki - Notes of Life said...

I will never know why a phone call can't wait, sadly some people are unbelievably impatient. The world won't end if they don't pick up the call... I can't imagine how they managed before the invention of the mobile (cell) phone!

awareness said...

We need to go the way of Newfoundland and ban the damn things while driving.

I like the word temerity.

Sleepypete said...

I was wearing my halo Thursday ... Was heading back from the place I was visiting through work when about 10 minutes after leaving, my mobile rang. That's kinda close to the time it takes for someone to discover that you've left something behind ... (which is something I get paranoid about)

But I kept my halo, I left the motorway (freeway/interstate) to get parked before returning the call. Meant I got a few more minutes tagged as work time too :-)

(think it was a callcentre, couldn't get an answer on trying to ring them back)

Using a mobile when driving is hellishly dangerous ... When high concentration is needed anyway cos of the other idiots on the road, spending some on a mobile is a recipe for dents.

Anonymous said...

boo-hoo-hoo. somebody died and it's all the fault of the cell phone.
Actually , it's all the fault of an inexperienced driver.
Whether you are 17 or 70, you are going to have to deal with distractions, with unforseen cicumstances, with unexpected situations.
I am a professional transport driver, and I am more experienced, and a better driver then I was five years ago.Five years ago I was a better driver than I was ten years ago. I hope I am a better driver five years from now than I am today.I learn something new every day. I have to rewrite my licence every five years, and the last time I wrote it, there was a stupid dumpy fat little girl who complained to her mother, " I got six wrong this time". Gee, how many did she get wrong last time, or the time before.But we all know she would get her licence and be on the road next to your family sooner or later. If she doesn't have her cell phone turned on, do you feel any safer?
And yes. I know there are bad truck drivers out there, this is probably a result of lax regulations to hire those inexperienced people who take the bad jobs that those with standards don't want.
While cell phones are distracting, so is a Tim Hortons coffee, or putting on make up, or eating burgers or soup, or reading a fully unfolded newspaper, or doing a crossword puzzle. And looking at your in-dash navigation system instead of the road isn't really that bright of an idea either.
Until the licencing system is toughened and enforced, don't fault the thing that distracts instead of those distracted.

Cam Wooly Booly
( Mati told Hati 'bout that thing she saw. It was a big ol' monster with a wooly jaw.)

Anonymous said...

Hello Carmi!
I think ego has something to do with this. Most people feel that they are good drivers; therefore they think they can handle the distraction of the cell phone while driving, even though they know the potential consequences.
I also agree with anonymous, that "It's the fault of an inexperienced driver."
How sad is it that we need to have laws put in place to protect us from our own stupidity and inexperience (or that of others)?