Whatever It Takes

Oct. 10, 2011
You can’t safely carry on a phone conversation while driving. No, really, you can’t.

I was recently riding in a car with a driver who relied on his phone’s GPS to direct us through an unfamiliar city. As he drove, he held the phone in front of the wheel and even typed in new destinations. He thought he was multitasking just fine, but I could see we were veering out of our lane. When I offered to navigate, he finally started watching the road, but was reluctant to part with the phone itself – probably because he wanted to continue answering and making phone calls while driving.

This driver not only engaged in distracted behavior, but he defended it when I asked him to stop. His reasoning was based on what I have come to associate with the most common myths surrounding distracted driving: That talking on a cell phone is not much of a distraction so long as your hands are on the wheel. That carrying on a conversation with a passenger surely can’t be any different from talking to someone on the phone. Or that GPS devices can’t possibly be potential distractions.

I shared with him the research I’d read, most notably the National Safety Council white paper that describes how our brains operate when trying to drive and conduct phone conversations at the same time. He acknowledged the research, but in the end made it clear he wouldn’t give up talking on the phone while driving. “You can’t remove every bit of risk from life,” he said, which I interpreted as, “I won’t give up talking on my phone while driving because it’s convenient and I have no desire to stop.”

I suspect he might put some more thought into it if he heard Jacy Good’s story, which in my opinion is reason enough for us all to hang up and focus on the road. Tragedy struck Good in 2008, when a driver talking on his cell phone caused an accident that killed both of Good’s parents and left her severely injured and with permanent disabilities.

Good recently participated in EHS Today’s September podcast, “Distracted Driving: Myth or Fact?” The biggest distracted driving myth she’d like to bust is a pervasive one: that hands-free headsets make cell phones and driving a safe combination.

“It’s really difficult, because according to cell phone companies and according to automobile companies, if your hands are on the wheel and your eyes are on the road, you’re practically safe. It makes sense, it seems like you should be, but our brains just cannot do it,” she says. “There is no way of carrying on a conversation … and driving safely at the same time.”

In fact, according to Good, perhaps the biggest distracted driving threat is not be the obvious culprit – texting – but instead, regular cell phone conversations.

“Don’t get me wrong, texting and driving is a horrendous thing,” she says. “[But] I think the difference is that when someone’s sending a text message, they know they’re distracted. They know they’re doing something they shouldn’t be doing – taking their eyes off the road, their hands off the wheel. So they’re almost hyper cautious of paying attention to the road in front of them, whereas everyone thinks they’re perfectly safe to have a conversation on the phone and drive a car. It’s just not true. It all needs to stop.”

Good knows better than anyone the heartbreaking and horrifying consequences that can stem from distracted driving. I can only hope that more people will hear her message and put down the phone.

“Do whatever it takes,” Good stresses. “Turn it off, put it in the glove box, put it on silent – do whatever it takes to ignore your phone when you’re in the driver seat.”

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