A commuter in the Monday morning gridlock on the Washington beltway might well daydream about trips on open roads – the feeling of freedom and joie de vivre, and the expectation of a happy arrival at the end of a journey. But while they are at a standstill on the asphalt, they should remember the consolation of being safe from other drivers.
On such a road trip, driving at the speed limit (70 mph) along the I-64 West in Virginia, we are thrilled by the first sight of bumps on the horizon – the Blue Ridge. At the tipping point on top of the Blue, the highway runs down into the Shenandoah Valley giving us a glimpse of the distant Appalachian plateau where we plan to spend a peaceful weekend in the mountains. God willing!
A red SUV passing us caught the corner of my eye, and I don’t know why but it made me glance aside. The sight put into low gear the reverie I had been enjoying about the weekend ahead. The lone driver was a young man and he was driving with no hands. He was preoccupied typing a text or email message on his mobile device while he passed in the fast lane. You could say that neither the road ahead nor the vehicles he burned past were at the front of his mind. Lucinda snapped a photo with her iPAD.
This isn’t the kind of story I like to write about. Everyone knows that using a mobile device while driving is common, risky, and now the main cause of road deaths and injuries for young people (3,000 and 300,000, respectively, each year in the USA). Only a day or two earlier while I was walking our dog, a lady with her cell phone held to one ear raised the other hand from the wheel to wave at the dog while she was turning a sharp corner. I jumped in the hedge, yanking Lilah after me. Of course, teens are not the only ones who get distracted while driving, but those that feel invincible are more vulnerable. Texting goes hand-in-hand with other risky driving behaviors – not wearing a seat belt and being intoxicated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 45% of high school students reported texting behind the wheel in the past month. The rates were no lower in states where it is already illegal, so enforcement has been useless so far. It must be a hard habit to break if a campaign by Oprah Winfrey, the “world’s most powerful woman”, has been unable to dent road accident statistics. She calls it an “epidemic” across the entire country.
So when you are cruising along the highway, and maybe playing It’s a Wonderful World to put you at ease, spare a thought for other road-users. Driving more defensively might help to avoid someone careering into your back before they look up after typing LOL.
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