I have a favor to ask of you. It’s an easy one. Really.
Please don’t text and drive.
Most of you are probably saying some version of “No, duh, Tara” in your head.
But I feel like I notice more drivers texting at the wheel all the time – and it’s not just stereotypical 17-year-old girls.
I’d say I notice someone texting nearly every day I’m in the car. Usually it’s a driver with her or his head hunched furtively down while at a stop light or a long wait to turn out of a parking lot.
But probably once a week I see someone texting in a truly egregious manner.
Earlier this spring, it was a 40-something woman I could tell was texting behind me at a stoplight on busy Route 38 in West Chicago. Soon enough, she was speeding past me in the other lane, texting all the way!
A couple weeks after that, a woman who resembled my elderly high school English teacher stopped about 10 car lengths before the light on Third Street in downtown Geneva to either text or dial on her cell phone. I was waiting to back out of a parking spot, and eventually did just that – since she didn’t seem to be interested in moving her car – and of course only then did she notice the huge space and laid on the horn at me. Because obviously I was the one not paying attention.
But the worst case I’ve seen, so far at least, was on Interstate 88. When a 20-something woman passed me in the other lane, I could see as plain as day that she had arms extended through her wheel so she could steer with her elbows while holding her cell phone above the wheel so she could text. Sigh. I don’t know why I didn’t think to call 911.
When it comes to driving, I’ve always been on the safe, cautious side. But of course that tendency only got stronger once I was carrying my precious cargo in a carseat in the back.
I’m a really mild-mannered person most of the time, but I can’t tell you how it makes my blood boil to think that someone would risk my life, my husband’s life, my daughter’s life, your life -- any life -- in order to text “LOL” or “See u soon.”
Texting while driving comes under the category of “distracted driving,” which also includes activities like talking on a cell phone, putting on makeup, talking to passengers, fiddling with a radio, GPS or MP3 player.
Personally, I’ve tried to severely limit my own cell phone use when in the car. If I need to call my husband to say I’m on the way home, or tell a friend I’m running late, I try my best to do it before the car is in motion. When I do actually talk on the cell while driving – whether on a hands-free device or not -- I know I’m not as “present” as I am when just listening to the radio or even chatting to my toddler.
Still, I don’t know of anything that can compete with texting in the “distracted” category, since it forces you to take your eyes off the road repeatedly for seconds at a time.
A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that truck drivers who were texting were 23 times more at risk of crashing or nearly crashing.
This short, powerful documentary from AT&T details the dangers of texting and drivers – and features families who lost loved ones because of texting, and a young man who killed a bicyclist while texting “LOL.” Seriously.
Back in 2009, Oprah Winfrey devoted a show to the topic, and she still has a page on her website called the "No Phone Zone." There's pledge there viewers can sign, promising to driving more safely – including no texting. I signed the pledge myself this week. But is it OK to admit that I’m amazed that even the power of Oprah can’t inspire more than 423,330 people to commit to what seems to be a no-brainer?
If Oprah Winfrey can’t launch a national movement, I’m not sure what I’ll be able to accomplish with this column. But I thought that maybe if all of us reading it today pledge not only to never text while driving – but also be more vocal about how angry it makes us – we might be able to prevent at least a few terrible, senseless, needless accidents.
Tara Burghart is the editor and founder of Go West Young Mom. Most weeks she writes a column called “Simple, Really?” examining why simplifying her life seems to be a complex undertaking.