Comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s routine, “You may be a redneck, if…” is very well known and is the inspiration for today’s blog
post rant. I live in the Dallas / Fort Worth area, one of the largest metroplexes in the U.S. Every day, it seems, I get stuck in a traffic jam, only to find, upon reaching the problem, that several vehicles have rear-ended one another. This is definitely happening more often, than in years past, and I believe it is primarily due to stupidity.
Those who know how I came into the world of EVs and hybrids are aware that I had been a victim of this same sort of stupidity in my life. I was sitting, stopped in traffic, when I saw a large SUV hurtling toward my car, the driver of which was busily typing away on his smartphone’s screen, while looking down at it.
I was certain I was about to die.
There was no way for me to move out of the way, so I just quit watching the mirror, thinking, “This is a stupid way to die.” At the last moment, the driver must have looked up, because he hit the brakes and only totaled my car but left me unscathed. That accident is what eventually brought me to the world of plug-in vehicles. I guess I should find the texter and thank him.
It happened again, while I was sitting at a stoplight, in my brand new 2017 Volt. The truck behind me (already stopped) just hit the gas and rear-ended me! We were both sitting at a stoplight! I admit I did not handle this incident very well. I got out of my car yelling “WTF?!?” The driver of the truck held up both hands, in apology, when I noticed one hand was holding…you guessed it… his smartphone.
Almost every new car today has, at the very least, bluetooth to connect to your smartphone. Using bluetooth, in a 2012 Volt, I could do so many things without touching the phone at all, that I was thrilled at the convenience and safety. Compared to how today’s Chevys handle voice commands to your smartphone makes the 2012 version look ridiculous, but it still worked very well.
Today, with bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, there is absolutely no reason to ever touch your smartphone, while driving. With both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, here’s what you can do with any smartphone that allows voice commands and has (at least) bluetooth:
- Make a phone call.
- Dictate an outgoing text message.
- Have the phone read an incoming text message.
- Play songs/audiobooks.
- Get driving directions with spoken turn-by-turn instruction (even display the map on the large radio touchscreen, if you have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto).
- Update your Facebook status. (but why?)
- Create geographical reminders: “Remind me when I leave work…” or “Remind me when I get home…”
- Place an appointment on your calendar.
In Austin, Texas, a city ordinance was created to outlaw texting while driving. However, when pulled over, the person accused had the obvious out, “I was dialing a phone number.” or “I was checking my navigation route.” Since then, the ordinance has been changed to not allow the driver to hold any electronic device in their hands, while driving.
My question to the Texas State Legislature is, “Why isn’t this law statewide???”
The problem with distracted driving has gotten to the point that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have studied the phenomena with these resulting statistics:
- In 2015, distracted driving killed 3,477 people.
- In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,328 in 2012.
- In 2013, 424,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, an almost 10% increase since 2011.
- In 2013, nearly one in five crashes (18%) in which someone was injured involved distracted driving.
- 31% of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 reported that they had read or sent text messages or email messages while driving at least once within the 30 days before they were surveyed.
- Younger drivers:
- Drivers under the age of 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.
- In 2013, more than two out of five students who drove in the past 30 days sent a text or email while driving.
- Those who text while driving are nearly twice as likely to ride with a driver who has been drinking.
Every day, during my commute, I see drivers drifting out of their lane, driving well below the speed limit (while traffic piles up behind them), braking or swerving suddenly. Invariably, when I pass them, they are looking at a smartphone screen, dialing (or texting with) a smartphone, even watching videos on their smartphone. One time, in Fort Worth, I had been in a terrible traffic jam, finally gotten to the accident and saw a three-car pileup. It was during the morning commute, so I assumed texting was involved. As we passed the accident and started accelerating back to normal speeds, the car next to me weaved toward my Volt. I turned to look and the driver was texting! Even seeing a major accident didn’t dissuade the woman from texting.
This behavior is not limited to distractions from electronics. I have even seen drivers, on the freeway, with a book open on their steering wheel!
Here’s where these drivers are showing immense disrespect: They are piloting a hurtling hunk of metal on roadways they share with the rest of us, without ever having a single concern for our safety (much less their own!). They’re not just risking their own lives, they’re risking the lives of every driver around them. In my opinion, the vehicle manufacturers are enabling this behavior with options like Lane Change Alert, Lane Keep Assist, Forward Collision Alert, Teen Driver, etc, but in their behalf, I’m sure these safety features lessen the chance of a distracted driver causing an accident. They are also the proving ground for more advanced automated driving systems that will (hopefully) end the distracted driver issue once and for all.
If you have a car with bluetooth, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, PLEASE use these capabilities to keep all of us (you included) safe! Don’t even hold your phone, during a phone call, as it limits your field of vision and takes one hand away from steering. If your car is old enough to not have these features, please pull off the road and park, to use your phone.
If you have a teenager that is driving, or about to be driving, please have a very strong conversation about texting while driving. I have told my daughter Zoe, that if I ever discover her texting while driving, I will sell her Volt the very same day.
Your life and your children’s lives are worth more than a phone call or text message.
My life is too, by the way…