Driven to Distraction

How many times have we seen it: A driver with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a phone to their ear? In and of itself this shouldn’t be that big of a deal. After all, we’ve been driving with one hand on the wheel for years. Heck, that was the cool way to drive when I was a teenager. Although to be honest, my name and the word “cool” were seldom used in the same sentence. Sure, they told us ten and two o’clock were the proper places for your hands. But outside of the on-the-road test, a lot of us didn’t follow that advice.

But there’s a big difference between kicking back and looking cool with one hand on the wheel and what is going on today. And that difference is where our minds are. Back then we were looking around at our surroundings. Perhaps keeping an eye out for a special someone. We were focused. But when you are on the phone, I’m thoroughly convinced that our minds take a vacation from where we are. It is suddenly transported to a different location.

For example, if my wife calls me at the office to tell me about something at home, I am no longer in my office. “Honey…you know that broken tile in the kitchen? The one near the back door? Well, several others are now cracked. A couple by the stove and one near the sink.” Magically I see my house before my eyes: the tile, the back door, the stove, and the sink. I am visualizing everything she is telling me. I don’t see my desk. I don’t see my computer. Someone could walk into my office and I may not even notice him or her for a few seconds. A few seconds. No big deal in my office. Not much is going to happen. Nobody is in any danger. But a few seconds on the road while going 45 mph is a pretty big deal.

I hear what you are saying: “But I’ve driven dozens of times while talking on my phone and I’ve never been in an accident.” And yes, that may be the case. You may drive a hundred times without an incident. Or two hundred times. But there will be that ONE time. The one time when you don’t see that kid on the bike quick enough. The one time you don’t see that motorcyclist in your blind spot. And that is all it takes. One time. And lives are changed forever.

I think I’ve figured out why people continue to answer their phones and make calls while they are driving. It’s because they can’t admit: “I’m just not that important.” They think every call is critical and that the world will come to a screeching halt if they don’t make or take that call. But once you come to grips with the fact that you just aren’t that important, it gets a lot easier. It’s really okay to let it go to voice mail.

I challenge you to try it for a while. It is somewhat liberating to not answer the phone (by choice). Many people complain about being constantly connected. Well here’s your chance to disconnect a little. In fact, maybe it gives you a little more power: “I will take that call later…just because I can.” Change your voice mail message to say that you can’t come to the phone or that you may be driving. That’s what you’ll hear if you call me and I don’t answer. And you want to know why? It’s because I’m just not that important. And I’m okay with that.

What are your thoughts? Do you have a self-imposed ban on using your phone while driving?

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  • Today I was coming off the freeway and at the end of the ramp drivers are supposed to yield to those of us exiting. A driver in an SUV just pulled out in front of me without yielding. Now I didn’t have to lock up the brakes, but I definitely had to hit them a little harder so I didn’t rear said vehicle. As I pulled up next to him at the stop sign I glanced over and shockingly he’s talking on his cell phone. Go figure.