This isn’t a big idea when you think about it, but it is definitely worth talking about. It’s a bad habit that has come with the advancement of communication, smartphone technology, and getting things done at any time, at any cost. I am talking about distracted driving. Answering text messages. Checking social media replies. Updating Facebook. All of these are just the tip of an incredibly dangerous iceberg. Many safety advocates say crashes involving smartphones are vastly under-reported because for some reason the drivers that were involved in the crash never admit they were distracted by their smartphones. Pride and hubris still play into scenes of the accident.
Distracted driving cannot solely be laid at the feet of smartphones as you have your GPS, your lunch, and (respect the classics) the radio have all contributed to the problem of distracted driving, but smartphones have ramped up the chances of distraction to a whole new level. Now we are seeing states pass laws preventing drivers from multitasking behind the wheel, and launching PSA campaigns about the dangers of distracted driving.
But some states are going even further in cracking down on distracted driving.
It’s been against the law for awhile to text while driving in Maryland. In Bethesda, a new strategy is being employed. A police officer disguised himself as a homeless man, and stands near a busy intersection. He radios ahead to officers down the road about drivers who are texting or updating their social media. So you’ve got people texting away, and you have this homeless guy “talking to himself” when in actuality he is radioing ahead to his fellow officer. In two hours last October, Bethesda Police issued 56 tickets.
So beware of that homeless guy walking along the median strip. He may be doing more than collecting spare change from you.
Maryland is not the only state taking the initiative against distracted drivers. At West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, south of Boston, an officer regularly tools around town on his bicycle. That’s all good to stay healthy, no doubt, but he pedals up to drivers at stoplights and gives them a ticket directly. And in Bridgewater, offenses are charged at $105. Forty-six states have laws against texting while driving and many also ban sending or reading email, using apps or engaging in other internet activity. Fourteen states ban drivers from using handheld cellphones for any activity.
While efforts to discourage texting have increased in recent years, however, drivers continue to update, text, and fiddle with apps; and its only getting worse. Drivers have also become sneakier about their bad habits. Instead of resting their phones against the steering wheel, they hold them down low to make it more difficult for police to see what’s going on.
That’s why, if you see anyone at a traffic signal, their head bowed and eyes appearing closed, police refer to these drivers as engaged in the “stoplight prayer.”
All joking aside, focus on the road and on reaching your destination safely. As I said at the beginning of the column, this is hardly a big idea. It’s just common sense.
A research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratford University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.