Editor: For readers who are following this series, here’s the second installment of the article entitled, “Pushing the limits: SMART-Phone, DUMB-Driver”. The first part can be found here.
By Christopher Dotson / Special to the OB Rag
How Much Is Too Much? How Fast Is Too Fast?
As the face of the distracted young driver began filling my rearview mirror, I was amazed how he managed to keep his eyes so intently focused upon his “Top-1000” gadget of the week. . . while driving. And that’s the point here: Labor-intensive tasks require a huge amount of mental bandwidth and capacity, as measured over time.
At 60mph, you travel almost 90 feet per second. So even “a few” seconds could be, like, 300 feet! Plus, add to that your ability to (correctly) evaluate and react to new events on the road. Even three seconds is way too long to remain engrossed in non-driving activities.
But I digress . . .
Peering again into the mirror only heightened my emotions, as both his hands now moved off the steering wheel, and he was busily grasping at some type of tether attached to the device.
Again, distractedly, I’m sure I thought to myself, “Aftermarket GPS. Wow!” Then, “Wouldn’t it be better if that was a BlueTooth? Probably more expensive, though. Better yet, voice activated! If it were voice operated then . . . .”
Reset. Back on my priority #1: Checking for potential escape routes. None! I was completely barred from exiting stage-left, blocked this entire time by several stacked vehicles. On my right, a vehicle was waiting to turn onto the bridge and cross over the river – That almost never happens to me at this intersection!
What can I say? If it can happen, it will happen, and dear ole’ “Murphy” is alive and well, and living next door.
Finally, I concluded: This could be really, really bad. During the next free moment (or digital “time-slice” in this elongated moment), and another quick glance in the mirror, I could see this young driver remained locked on, and his full attention was on the GPS unit . . . which he now dropped! Yet another distraction he has to deal with.
I begin pumping my brake lights and honking my horn. He still doesn’t see what’s ahead of him.
One final check up front to gauge the distance, before I return to my rearview and see the young man’s face, and his now frantic attempt at reaching for (and retrieving!) the GPS device from the edge of his dashboard. He still hasn’t a clue.
Am I in a dream?
I noticed, too, there were three passengers in his car, all singing and chair-dancing at the top of their abilities. Still, I continued pumping my brakes in some vain hope the young driver’s attention would return to the road in front of him where it belongs.
I can hear their music clearly, now. ‘Zep! A personal favorite. Nice! My hand reaches for the parking brake, which is another habit born from a life of urban street riding.
Somehow, at the last possible moment, and with panic still registering on his face (to this day, I remain convinced his true horror was at having dropped the gadget, and was not an acknowledgement of any impending collision, of which he was only now becoming aware), he slammed on the brakes, skidding and sliding to a stop while avoiding my car by inches. In response, the woman to my left lurched forward a few inches, as I saw her face contorting with disapproval.
Still eying him through mirrors, I could see the young driver seemed unaware of the near-miss, along with his passengers who continued laughing, and performing some sort of in-car jam session. Perhaps he was ignoring the event. Perhaps he was never even aware of my own brake lights flashing, even as I pumped so furiously (Given the circumstances, it really was the only thing I could do – No time to bail). Maybe I should buy a fourth rear-mounted brake light, like the new high-intensity LED units. Perhaps I should. . . . ahh, fuck it! I don’t even think I told my wife what happened, as I was probably too distracted by events at work.
Before I departed the scene, I noted his GPS was no longer visible on the dashboard or stuck in his mitts.
“Someone else’s problem, now”, I recall thinking with the ultimate sarcasm. And that’s the point, isn’t it?
This is not the first detailed incident I could describe -and I suspect many readers have witnessed their own similar and growing “trends”. This was certainly not the first techno-related near-miss I know of as I’ve observed similar incidents where other drivers and pedestrians nearly became victims of what I deem “too many distractions and distracters”.
In fact, many actual cases have come to mind since that day, including jay walking pedestrians who are too engrossed in their SMART-phones to know when traffic is about to crush them. I am only amazed about not writing this article sooner, and for no other reason than to raise awareness of this “SMART-Phone, DUMB-Driver” syndrome. Surely we’ve all seen it, even in its simplest (i.e. it’s more pedestrian) form. (pun intended)
Or, perhaps we have seen similar incidents, but we failed to connect the dots and we didn’t understand what kind of near-miss we had just witnessed.
More benign forms of SMART-Phone, DUMB-Driver syndrome exist, and they are easiest to account for, having observed them at many an intersection. I might break it down as follows: 1) Green light means “go”, while 2) observe a headless-driver silhouette, 3) a quick tap of your wake-up horn, then 4) driver-side head appears, straight up, along with 5) an extended arm protruding from the driver-side window, as 6) car speeds off ashamedly or defiantly, depending on whether the arm was supporting a hand or a finger.
I barely even drive these last 2 months, and yet I’ve observed this exact scenario two or three times. As I recall the tally: One hand. One finger, to date. A 50/50 percentage? Even with this small sampling rate, some room exists to remain hopeful for a return to “behind the wheel sanity” (heavy sarc).
(Stay tuned for the third installment of this series entitled, “Pushing the limits: SMART-Phone, DUMB-Driver”)