24 July 2013

The Minivan Text Messenger vs. My Inner Mama Bear

Between the day I got my driver's license at 17 and my current ripe ol' age of 31, I can confidently say that I have never been in a car accident. *knock on wood*

But I've come pretty darn close, and each close call was due to another driver's ignorance or impatience.

There was the time a guy in a Jeep realized he was getting off at the wrong exit, made a sharp left back onto the highway, and almost pushed me into a car coming up on my left in the fast lane. (I still have flashbacks each time I pass the exit.)

Then there have been countless red light runners who would rather take out your front bumper than wait another 2 minutes for the next green light. And there are those who hesitate before they pull out in front of you.

Let's not forget the tailpipe kissers, the without-a-blinker lane changers, and the "I'm late for work and need my mascara" rearview mirror make-up applicators.

Seriously. Get off my bumper. Wave your "I'm in asshat" banner before you cut me off in traffic. Apply your mascara in the bathroom mirror at the office because we all know that's where you're going to take the day's selfie anyway.

But there is nothing--and I mean NOTHING--that aggravates my road rage and inner mama bear like those who text and drive.

A few weeks ago, someone's impatience caused a near-accident with my car. But this time, my toddler was asleep in the back. I was taking our usual route home from swim lessons on the 4-lane divided highway between Athens and our home in Jefferson. I came up behind a minivan who was driving roughly 15 under the speed limit in the right lane, so I decided to pass her on the left. This isn't anything out of the ordinary for any driver. Don't want to drive 40 in a 55? Pass on the left. Done.

Or so I thought. As I came up alongside the minivan, it began to drift into my lane. Not just an inch or so. It came over far enough that the dotted white line was nearly at the middle of the van's front axle. And I had to veer left toward the median to avoid having my front right quarter panel being hit.

The right side of our station wagon is also the side where our toddler's car seat is installed. You want to know panic? My child's life flashed before my eyes as I prepared for the possibility of metal-to-metal impact.

There are roughly 2-3 seconds of heavy assessment blowing wildly through your mind as this is happening. Do I lay on the horn? It'll wake up my sleeping child. Maybe the driver has fallen asleep at the wheel after pulling the night shift as a NICU nurse and I need to blow the horn. But then my child will cry. Or maybe the driver is out cold from a narcoleptic episode. [I actually saw this once at a traffic light when I was 18--still can't shake the image of that guy simply passing out, slumping over, and then just coming to and driving off.] Maybe she's having an out-of-the-blue medical emergency, like a stroke or a seizure, so horn honking won't help.

Basically, I was giving the driver the benefit of the doubt.

I slowed, and the minivan moved back into its lane. After righting our car in our lane, I pulled up alongside the van to see what caused our almost-accident.

My jaw hit the floorboard.

The woman had both hands on her cell phone--as in, her elbows were doing the "driving"--typing intently with her eyes on the screen and not at all on the road.

There was instant teeth grinding and dashboard pounding and lots of colorful words blowing up in my skull.

My eyes bore a hole through her window, and eventually she felt my gaze. I wanted her to look back at me. She had to be witness to the outrage on my face. She had to see the questioning in my eyes as to why she thought her text message was so much more important than my life or the one that slept so snugly with her stuffed penguin tucked under her arm.

The look on her face revealed instant mortification. It was obvious she was imagining how her apathy toward driving laws could have caused more than just a trip to the body shop. I'm going to guess that texting while driving is something the woman does all the time, thinking that if she drives slowly enough, she won't cause a wreck. Maybe she thought texting while driving was one of those tasks you simply master over time, like sipping a soda or changing the radio station.

Or maybe it was her first time and she thought, "Just this once..."

But whether she was an habitual texter or a first-timer doesn't mean squat to me. She had been caught in the act, and it was by someone who was driving with her child. And all I wanted to ask her:
Was your message worth it? Was it worth risking a 19-month-old's life?
So here's my soapbox stance on texting while driving:

Don't do it. Ever. Not with one hand on the wheel. Not while you're backing out of a parking spot. Not even while you wait at a stop light or in line at the drive-through for your daily Starbucks. There is no "exception to the rule". Do you think on those occasions when I'm driving sans toddler it suddenly means I have the freedom to text? Um, no. It's about as dumb an argument as saying that a child-free car is less of a threat with an intoxicated driver.

When you are behind the wheel, you have accepted a very serious responsibility to move your being from one location to the next via a machine that weighs a few THOUSAND pounds. You have to multi-task like you've never multi-tasked before: Read road signs. Check your speed. Check your mirrors. Check your "check engine" light. Press the clutch at just the right moment. Yield when drivers way less intelligent than yourself drive the wrong way in a one-way aisle of the grocery store parking lot. Slow down when someone passes you on the left. Change the radio station when Nickelback comes on. Speed up when you pull onto the interstate. Run your lights and wipers in the rain. Avoid hitting squirrels. Avoid hitting moose. Don't get lost. Don't get stuck in the mud. Call AAA when you get a flat tire.

So why would you want to throw in one more distraction? I have enough to worry about while I'm driving, and I'd rather not have to spend my energy trying to play Frogger with highway texters.

Maybe I'm the only one in this country who is emotionally affected by the Don't Text and Drive campaign ads. Someone dies or is gravely injured because they were texting while behind the wheel or as a result of being struck by someone doing it. Then they show the text message and ask, "Was it worth it?"

Or how about this BMW ad from the summer of 2011? The irony of the ad rings truer today than 2 years ago.

We are a culture where we are more obsessed with survival tactics for a zombie apocalypse or keeping up with the Crapdashians than we are about driving safety. I've listened to friends as they complain about the mom who "should be breastfeeding" or about the rude old man who cut in front of them in line for ice cream.

I'd much rather get into a heated debate over bottle feeding vs. breastfeeding or an encounter with some dodgy old guy over encountering an idiot who is texting while driving.

And while I'm at it, driving safety doesn't just stop at texting while driving. People take photos of all kinds of stuff while they're driving--vanity plates, misspellings on billboards, rainbows--and then take the time to post it on Instagram or Facebook.

Why is it so friggin' difficult to WAIT until you're out of the car? Or at the very least, in park?

I don't care if you're a surgeon and you are sending a message to a patient to let them know they are finally getting a heart transplant. Don't send that message when you're driving. Do it when you're getting a pedicure or reeling in a marlin or climbing up Everest. But not when you are behind the wheel because you better believe that if your texting behaviors cause any harm to my child, you will rue the day you bought a smartphone.
 On average, texting causes drivers to look away from the road for 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, the vehicle travels the length of an entire football field - including both end zones - while the driver isn’t looking. (http://www.focusdriven.org/texting)

1 comment:

Renise said...

I found you via Pinterest and I LOVE the message of this post. I used to think texting while driving wasn't that bad. Then one day I almost rear ended someone at a stoplight. We were both stopped but i slowly let my foot off the brake. It wouldn't have caused much damage if any but still... No more. My phone now rests in the glove compartment.


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