I cannot speak for anyone else, but I am scared. I did not have to hear about government initiatives to add warning labels on cell phones in order to reduce distracted driving to understand the gravity of the situation (see today’s Washington Post, for example). The national statistics identified nearly 5,500 deaths and nearly 450,000 accidents (16% of total) were the result of distracted driving.
I have not been a regular car commuter for a few years. But, since coming back to the Washington area, it has become part of my daily routine. I do a morning run to school and drop my wife to her office, and in the afternoon I have school pick-up and the after-school activity trips. I have made it my own policy to not use my phone while driving: I often pass it to my passenger to answer. There appears to be a problem of epidemic proportions. But, the distracted driver is not even the major problem: that is undoubtedly all the distracted persons using cell phones. We could further and just it’s about all the distracted activity, because it could involve those animated conversations, or children bouncing around, or personal hygiene tasks, and more.
Let me just describe what I met today during a couple of rush-hours driving a morning round-trip between Bethesda and downtown DC:
- Pedestrian texting and smoking while approaching (and not looking) then entering a cross walk–the car horn alerted her to her impending danger.
- A garbage collection worker, hanging onto the back of his truck talking on the cell phone as he (apparently) gave directions to the driver to stop in the middle of a four-way intersection and then reverse.
- A driver of a heavy-duty pick-up truck, driving one-handed around a turn, gesturing with and talking into his cell phone.
That’s enough to have given me the heebie-jeebies, because, while I was looking at them casually, they were not looking around at anything much. My big fear is that one or several of these phone users will cause an accident, whether as a distracted walker or as a distracted driver. Put the two together and you can see the carnage.
I wrote previously about the similar practice when people are not on highways, but say exercising: essentially, bicycling, rollerblading, pushing a stroller, jogging, etc. while texting and talking on a cell phone.
Policy may change behaviour, but it usually needs more than legislation. The economist in me says that the incentives have to be right. Now, I would think that preservation of life would feature as a big incentive, but judging from what I have seen, the value of life–one’s own or other’s–has been heavily discounted.
Lies, lies and damned statistics may be apt. But, I do not want to be found lying anywhere having become a sad statistic.