Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

November 15, 2013

The no caffeine morning commute

— — A particularly watchful and astute police officer might notice me, bleary-eyed and slow-reacting behind the wheel in the early morning hours. My hesitant driving might capture his attention and raise suspicion. His flashers would go on and he’d blare his siren. I’d pull over to the side of the road.

“License and registration, ma’am,” he’d say. “Yes, sir,” I’d answer respectfully, trying not to slur my words and struggling to appear alert enough to be driving.

“Ma’am,” he would begin, “what do I smell on your breath?”

And here my cover would collapse; my attempt at acting normal would crumble. I’d dissolve into tears.

Caught with no way out I’d answer, “Morning breath, officer.” No use arguing and telling him I’d had one drink. “Another DWI driver during the morning commute. I’ll have to write you up.

Driving While Impaired ... by sleep. Also known as a DWC. Driving Without Coffee. One cup would’ve made the difference, ma'am. Even half a cup with some folks.”

“I know, I know ... I just wanted to make up lost sleep later...”

“I’ll let you off this time, follow you to the nearest coffee shop and make sure you get to some caffeine safely. Then you can take your daughter the rest of the way to school.”

“I wasn’t planning to drive, officer. I promise. We were just going to the bus stop four blocks from our home but we missed the bus. Really, I wouldn’t normally drive in this condition. I understand the safety issues...”

“I know ma’am,” he interrupts. “I've heard it before.

“I'm considering this a warning because you were obviously within legal range. You were more awake than some folks I see out here in the early morning hours, unexpectedly driving their kid to school when they miss the bus.”

I imagined this scenario as I unexpectedly drove my daughter to school in time for her to be in class at 7:05 a.m. We live about 15 minutes away when there is no traffic — it’s just a straight shot down one road, thankfully. But I am still wary in the dark, worried a cyclist will loom unseen in the road or a car will veer into my path and my reactions will be slowed by the fact that I’m barely awake.

Of course, the danger is horribly real when we are talking about a true DWI, Driving While Impaired, or DUI, Driving Under the Influence. I’m not taking that tragedy lightly. The lives lost and injuries caused by the ignorance, selfishness and recklessness of others enrage us all. And, while there is some debate about the figures, studies suggest that texting impairs a driver as much as drugs or alcohol so laws prohibiting that behavior are equally important.

 Most of the time, the first thing I do in the morning is push the button on the coffee maker. But the morning this scenario played in my head I had gone coffee-less hoping that, after getting my daughter breakfast, making her lunch and watching her climb on the bus, I could climb back into bed and make up an hour or so of sleep lost to my traditional middle-of-the-night insomnia. Another issue is that throughout the nation we are expecting teenagers to drive to school and sit in class, absorbing information and learning as early as 7:05 a.m. Studies have shown teens have better mental function late in the day, which explains why they want to stay up late on a school night and barely budge when the alarm buzzes. Presumably, they would function better at school if they started later in the morning. Because of after-school jobs, after-school sports, and buses employed to run multiple routes throughout the morning to elementary, middle, and high school campuses, older teens are often the first in school and the first out. Meanwhile younger students, who naturally wake up earlier, have extra time if they have a late start at school, but then might have long commutes home in rush hour traffic.

I do see an upside to this accidental commute. Everyone in the family, including the dog, would fail to be categorized as a “morning person.” We barely speak to each other for the first hour or so. This habit is evident while sitting at the bus stop, waiting with my daughter in the dark and silent warmth of the car. But the few times we’ve had to drive to school, my daughter, chagrined about missing the bus and appreciative of my extra effort, begins to chat and we get unplanned time to catch up during the unplanned commute.

So that bleary-eyed trip to school becomes a bonus and I welcome the chance to hear extra stories or get an update on homework. I just hope I remember it when I eventually wake up.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith and family She lives in North Carolina. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.

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