September 2, 2009

Texting While Driving – Appeared in the Sun Times Beacon News on September 6, 2009



I was on my way home from a Cubs game last weekend when I witnessed a car accident. I happened to look over at a vehicle in the adjacent lane as it was about to slam into the vehicle that was stopped in traffic. I cannot estimate the precise speed of the driver that caused the crash but he was going fast enough to have completely crushed the front end of his car. As I played the incident back in my head, my recollection actually registered a few milliseconds before he struck the other vehicle. In the film reel of my consciousness, I saw the man holding his cell phone in his hand and giving it his full attention as the explosion of metal on metal caused everyone in my car to gasp.

Fortunately, no one was seriously injured in that crash. Whether you subscribe to luck or a guardian angel as the reason the drivers walked away unscathed is of little importance. The more pressing issue as you can most likely infer is the fact that the accident was a direct result of the driver’s focus being on his cell phone rather than on the road in front of him. I’ve been paying close attention to the Illinois House Bill 71 that was approved by the House and Senate in May of 2009 and now sits on the Governor’s desk waiting to be signed. Effective January 1, 2010, the law will prohibit a person from using an electronic communication device to compose, send, or read an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle. One might think that the topic interests me because of my profession and the responsibility of enforcement that befalls officers when a new law is enacted. Despite the logic, you would be wrong. I am intrigued by the topic because I am helplessly and hopelessly addicted to my cell phone. I am guilty of dialing while driving, talking while driving, and I have even been known to (gasp) text while driving. If I know I’m going to be stuck at a stoplight for two minutes, I can get through about four e-mails of average length on my shiny iPhone. I welcome a delay at the train tracks because that means Facebook and Twitter can get some attention while the box-cars fluidly float by. I am not proud of this addiction and my confession is more of a step to publicly denounce my behavior than a means to preach about the dangers of this habit.

After witnessing that accident, I feel as though discussions in the media about cell phone use and driving are stalking me. When I pick up a newspaper or channel surf, reports of the dangers of texting while driving taunt me with statistics that cite cell phones as the rising cause of injury accidents. It is as though the universe is conspiring to take over my subconscious by tuning into only that channel.

Well universe, message received. I knew that my simple recognition of the fact that texting while driving is considered just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol would be enough to alter my behavior. Besides, I’m a very disciplined person by nature and I’m not one to allow a vice to overpower me.

And then it happened. Ding. A text message came through on my phone while I was driving down the street.

“No biggie. I’ll just check it when I reach my destination” I thought.

I looked down at the phone sitting in the cup-holder with the text message alert nagging at me.

“I’m sure it’s nothing pressing – – just a meaningless message from a friend meant to amuse or delight” my inner voice was saying.

I gripped the steering wheel tighter with both hands so as not to reach for the phone. Then I had an idea. I could read the text message quickly while barely taking my eyes off of the road. Yes, that is what I would do I decided. I picked up the cell phone and read the message which ended up being a bad idea because the urge to respond was overwhelming. Dare the sender of the text think me rude for not answering? I succumbed at the next stoplight conceding that this addiction would render greater restraint than I originally thought.

I am happy to report that I am slowly conquering this weakness but it is not out of sheer discipline as I had predicted. Instead, I must turn the ringer on silent and strategically place the phone into my glove box where I cannot see it or hear it thereby taking away the temptation to connect with the outside world. I can’t wait until January of 2010 to break this habit. Your life and mine depend on it.

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