I have a recurring fantasy about a device that I would like someone to invent so that I can have the pleasure of using it every day. It would be a handheld device, when aimed and activated, to cause a person talking on a cell phone nearby to receive a shock to their head strong enough to make them drop the phone.
Using cell phones while driving is an activity that kills and maims people, yet drivers continue to do it thinking that whatever they have to say cannot wait until they pull over or stop driving.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "69 percent of drivers in the United States ages 18-64 reported that they had talked on their cell phone while driving within the 30 days before they were surveyed. In Europe, this percentage ranged from 21 percent in the United Kingdom to 59 percent in Portugal."
Those numbers are more than troubling, especially when one considers the statistics for all kinds of distracted driving. The CDC notes that, "In 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,267 in 2010. An additional, 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011, compared to 416,000 people injured in 2010.1 In 2010, nearly one in five crashes (18 percent) in which someone was injured involved distracted driving."
When I learned to drive a car the first lesson that stuck in my mind was that I was now responsible for a big machine that had the potential to kill people. To me that meant I had an enormous responsibility to focus all of my energy on driving and nothing else. I continue to believe that safe driving means using all of your powers of concentration.
No one is perfect and we all find ways to become distracted while driving, from eating on the road or having animated conversations with passengers. But we now live in an era when there are just too many distractions and that means we have to work harder at safe driving.
The Vermont legislature is now considering a bill to make it illegal to talk on a handheld cell phone while driving. I don't think that we should have to pass laws that require people to use common sense but, in this case, I see no hope for large numbers of drivers to stop talking while driving unless there is some sort of penalty.
The governor has said he does not favor such a bill because he feels it will force people to break the law. He is implying that drivers will not be able to help themselves and that there is no hope to stop drivers from using cell phones while driving.
People will break any law that is passed, but that is not a reason not to pass a law. If legislatures had not been persistent over the years in passing a variety of laws related to smoking it is doubtful we would have seen the dramatic drop in the number of smokers over the past few decades.
Distracted driving will always be with us, but that is no reason to accept it as something tolerable. It is a life and death matter and it needs to be treated with as much urgency as possible.
I used to rollerblade on the road I live on but now I am fearful of people who do not have their eyes on the road. When you see a car crossing the center line and then realize the person is talking on the phone you fear that you may be meeting the Grim Reaper soon if you do not get out of the road.
My wife had a one woman crusade against people who talk on their phones while driving. When someone called her she would ask if they were driving. If they said "yes" she would immediately hang up on them. Short of passing a law, that may have been the most effective deterrent to that kind of bad behavior.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse and long-time health care advocate. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at email@example.com.