A few recent comments on the “NTSB Recommends Total Ban on Drivers’ Use of Distracting Devices” and the blog post “Driving Should Not Be the Distraction” reveal a common complaint: Why bother doing anything about cell-phone-related distracted driving when there are other distractions out there, too?
For example, after reading about NTSB’s call for a ban on all cell phone use while driving, one commenter wrote: “How about GPS devices, putting on makeup, smoking, shaving, eating, drinking and most of all unruly kids in the back seat. Don't forget the dog sitting in the drivers lap hanging its head out the window, blocking the driver’s mirrors ... that's got to be distracting.”
Another wrote: “May I add: pets in the driver's lap, ice cream sundaes, java-mocha-whatevers, etc, etc. Come on! Feds: Get out of my life!”
But I argue that it’s not just your life. It’s the lives of everyone on the road around you. And when you use a cell phone while driving – whether it’s hands-free or not, whether you’re writing a text or sneaking a quick peek at an incoming message – it’s dangerous. Your brain is not fully engaged in your driving. You’re navigating a hunk of metal that weighs thousands of pounds at rapid speeds next to other huge, fast-moving, dangerous hunks of metal – and your brain isn’t fully on the task at hand. Part of your attention is floating outside of the car to somewhere else. Scientists even claim that what is happening to your brain at that point is as dangerous as drunk driving. And frankly, I don’t want to be on the road next to you when this is happening.
Now, I do agree that these readers have a point – other potentially dangerous distractions exist while we drive. I don’t want to be on the highway next to a woman leaning toward her rearview mirror to apply mascara any more than I do someone talking on his cell phone. But just because drivers have been distracted by certain things for decades – applying makeup, eating or drinking, adjusting the radio channel – does not mean we should excuse the emerging (and worsening) distractions created by new technologies.
I view any “But XYZ is distracting, too!” argument as an excuse. You want to keep talking on your phone while driving because it’s convenient. You might even complain about other people using their phones while driving, but you think you can do it just fine. I’ve said it before on this blog and elsewhere, but I’ll say it again: That’s not the case. You’re not the exception. Whether you believe it or not, you are taking a risk by talking on your phone while driving – and it’s a risk that could affect not just you, but others as well.
It might be true that a total mobile usage ban while driving might be difficult to enforce. But this, too, is just another excuse. The key to cutting down on this dangerous behavior might not be chasing down every offender and issuing him a ticket – instead, it might be the understanding, at last, that this is dangerous behavior. If more and more people start to grasp that, then the next time they’re in a car with someone who answers his phone, they’ll ask him to hang up. Or the next time they get a call from a loved one who wants to chat during her commute home, they’ll ask her to call back later, at a safer time.
But if we continue to drive on, blissfully ignorant with our cell phones pressed against our ears, we’re going to continue making the roads a more dangerous place.
So enough with the excuses. That phone call can wait. (Yes, it really, really can.) Whether or not your state passes legislation that bans the use of all mobile devices while driving doesn’t matter as much as safety – your own safety, your passengers’ safety and the safety of everyone else on the road. And I think we can all agree on that.