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Guest Column

Driven to distraction

"It wasn't my fault. I glanced at my text message for only a second when the car in front of me hit me."

"How could the car in front of you hit you?"

"The idiot stopped to let a dog cross the street -- and dented my front bumper with his rear bumper. Yet the cops wrote me up for texting while driving!"

"You speak of a spate of new distracted-driver laws that are emerging across America. The problem has become so pervasive, the federal government conducted a National Distracted Drivers Summit a few weeks ago."

"A summit for distracted driving?"

"Yes, and with good reason. Last year, some 6,000 people were killed -- and 515,000 injured -- because of accidents caused by distracted drivers."

"Really?"

"The fact is people are not good at multitasking while driving. Carnegie Mellon University found that talking on a cell phone reduces activity in the brain's parietal lobe by 37 percent -- which means you're less able to focus on driving."

"You want to reduce activity in the parietal lobe, try driving while the wife keeps telling you which way to turn."

"According to The New York Times, a Michigan professor found that when someone tries to multitask, important neural regions in the brain must switch back and forth. This opens up opportunities for serious mistakes behind the wheel."

"Look, I'm in sales and on the road a lot. I've gotten pretty good at talking, eating, texting and driving. It wasn't my fault some idiot front-ended me."

"You'd think it would be simple common sense -- that people would know better than to try to text and drive or take cell phone calls while they're roaring down a highway at a high rate of speed -- but that isn't the case."

"But it's not my fault the wife wants immediate answers when she texts me -- as if the world is going to end if I don't text her right away that I didn't forget the milk (even though I always forget it)."

"You'd think there would be no need for laws and penalties to prevent distracted driving, but, unfortunately, there is."

"How so?"

"Look, our roadways have changed significantly over the years. For starters, many of our cars are so comfortable and quiet, people forget they're operating a two-ton hunk of steel. They're able to zone out to music or yap on the phone, oblivious to the millions of things that could go wrong."

"But I invested a lot of dough in my sound system. It would be a waste not to blast the speakers!"

"To make matters more challenging, there are lots more cars on the road. Americans own 2.3 cars per household. Thirty-five percent of American households own three or more cars."

"So we're a rich country. What's wrong with that?"

"It only means that there are lots more drivers on the road -- drivers of every age and experience level. We know, for instance, that teen drivers are distracted more easily than older drivers -- especially when their peers are in the car with them."

"The wife and I solved that problem. We got our daughter a '76 Pacer. She never leaves the house."

"The point is, the more distracted drivers there are on the road, the greater the opportunity for accidents. And add to that challenge a mix of new technologies -- cell phones, iPods, laptops, GPS devices -- and you have a recipe for disaster."

"If you say so."

"Look, many people are wary of the government intervening in our lives, but there is wide agreement that this is one area where the government needs to intervene. Many states have implemented distracted driving laws and with good reason."

"I don't think such laws should pertain to me. As I said, I'm very good at multitasking behind the wheel. Sure, I cut off other drivers now and then but even they praise me for my skills."

"They do?"

"Why else would they give me the 'You're No. 1' sign?"

- Tom Purcell is a columnist

for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and is nationally syndicated

by Cagle Cartoons

(Purcell@caglecartoons.com).

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