Thursday, April 26, 2012

Driving Distracted

When my brothers and sisters and I were young we used to play games in the car to help keep us entertained and distracted on long car rides. For his part my dad used to tell a story about a man named “Falling Rock.” A long time ago Falling Rock went on a long journey and never returned. Although he was not seen again his people never gave up looking for him. Once in a while you will still see a road sign that reminds us to watch for him.

In addition to watching for Falling Rock our mom led us through the alphabet by reading passing billboards. We also looked for license plates from the other states (especially the elusive Hawaii plate). Sometimes we would split up into two teams and count cows on each side of the highway, and whenever a cemetery appeared on your side of the car you had to “bury” all of your cows and start over.

The cow game usually went pretty well unless Grandma O’Meara was along for the ride. Then horses became cows and excessive exaggerations were passed off as conservative estimates.

We didn’t have phones, smart or otherwise, no portable DVD players, and the only music in the car came from the AM radio that Dad controlled. The only distraction Dad ever had to his driving came from the back seat and it was easily corrected by pulling over to the side of the road.

Other than the minor disturbances within the car I can’t imagine Dad’s attention ever wavered from the road, but we live in a different age now and the police are cracking down on distracted driving. From what I read in the papers texting and talking on the phone are considered the biggest causes of inattentive driving.

While I avoid those (most of the time) there are so many other possible diversions that adding a couple more seems unnecessary. It’s easy enough for me to get caught up in the conversations of passengers, the radio, my own thoughts, and all that stuff passing by the window.

Auto manufacturers are playing both sides of the game. In addition to the regular instrument panel which shows speed, oil pressure, etc., they give us even more to do with a 5-inch touch screen. It can display maps, dozens of radio stations, song titles (and lyrics), gas prices, movie listings, weather radar, and a bunch of other stuff. Then on top of that they provide a way for others to monitor your driving habits remotely.

Tattletale technology, such as GM’s On Star and Ford’s Sync, while giving drivers in distress a quick and easy way to get help, also makes it easy for others to keep an eye on us.

If you give them an inch they’ll take your miles. At first it will start out as monitoring distances driven, but once they get their foot in the door of your car there’s no telling when they’ll apply the brakes. I believe that if we willingly let others keep track of our driving habits, sooner or later they’ll tell us not only how far we are allowed to drive, but when and where as well. Distracted driving can take many forms.

That’s why we all need to keep our eyes on the road. Driving is a privilege and gives us a great deal of freedom. It should have our full attention; it should not be taken lightly or for granted, otherwise the sign may someday read, “Road Closed – Unauthorized Vehicles Prohibited.”

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