Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

March 8, 2013

Distractions of distracted driving

— — Recently there has been a lot of talk about what people should and should not be allowed to do when behind the wheel.

Last year, the state of West Virginia banned texting while driving and a similar prohibition on talking on the phone without a hands-free device is set to go into effect as a primary offense on July 1. The Legislature is also mulling bills regarding drug testing drivers police believe may be under the influence of narcotics behind the wheel as well as requiring younger drivers to pass a drug test before they can acquire their license.

I personally don’t categorize myself as a distracted driver, mainly  because I find driving difficult enough without having to juggle multiple electronics at once. I’m sure we all would like to think we don’t fall into that distracted driver category, even those who are basically joined at the ear to their phones or other electronics.

 I do honestly try to avoid talking on my phone while driving at all costs, but I have to admit there are some instances where I have picked up behind the wheel. Most of those times were emergencies. Ever since I first got behind the wheel, I have honestly tried to find a place to pull over before picking up the phone and calling back. And I can honestly say I have never texted while driving. However, that is mainly because I have a hard enough time texting in the first place. I have tripped more than once attempting to text just while walking.

Thinking back, however, I have to admit I’m not exactly always 100 percent focused on my driving all the time. There are a lot of little things I would say make me a “distracted driver” that I barely even notice doing. Changing the radio station, grabbing a hand full of fries or a sip of a drink from my cup holder and even pulling my sunglasses down over my eyes seem to take only a few seconds. However, when you are traveling 55 miles per hour, you can go roughly 80 feet per second your eyes are off the road. It’s a little scary to think about how far you can go in such a brief period of time, especially if you aren’t exactly focused on the road ahead. That is why I understand why it isn’t safe for us to have our phones on during the car. I can trust myself not to pick up my phone when it rings, but I can’t trust the thousands of other drivers on the road to do the same. Of course, I have found my phone is not exactly the most harmful device you can have going in the car.

There are truly some amazing things that can be hooked in through cigarette lighters and other car outlets.

While things like DVD players and video game consoles hooked into the car may be a relief for some parents on long vacations, I fail to see how anyone could feel the need to plug in a fax machine, printer, blow dryer, curling iron, portable fan, or dashboard Christmas tree into their vehicle.

For those who get hungry on the go, there are even coffee makers, martini blenders, barbecue grills, crock pots, panini presses and griddles for making pancakes or grilled cheese sandwiches that you can hook into your car. It may be hard to believe, but all of these items are available for people who want to make their life on the road a little bit easier. I think its a fair judgment to suggest all of these items probably make it a little harder to keep your eyes on the road.

I highly doubt Henry Ford had any idea all the things we would end up doing in our cars when the first Model T rolled off the assembly line. However, I do think Ford would have liked to find a way to put Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone into his vehicles if he had ever gotten the chance.

After all, it probably would have sold a few more cars once the idea caught on. Those were also the days before seat belts, air bags, and cars that could reach the high speeds we take on roadways today, of course.

It seems as our cars have gotten safer we have started taking more risks in them, probably because we put a little too much faith in our technology and not enough focus on our own skills.

We have gotten so used to having things like radios, phones, TV screens, and other devices in our car that we sometimes forget that driving is hard enough without finding the right iTunes playlist or sending a quick text to work while we are behind the wheel.

I try to keep my eyes on the road because I don’t want to have to pay for damage to my own vehicle or someone else’s.

 Of course, I am only one driver and I can do only do my best to do what is right and not put myself at any further risk. Other than looking out for myself, I suppose the best I can do is focus on the road ahead, cross my fingers and hope I don’t get hit by some making a grilled cheese sandwich at 60 miles per hour.

Kate Coil is a reporter with the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at kcoil@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTCoil.

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