Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Is Anybody Really Driving?

Last Friday morning I was in my 2007 Jeep Wrangler, driving from my home in St. Pete Beach to the University of South Florida in north Tampa for a faculty meeting. At seven-forty-five I was getting on the Howard Frankland Bridge which carries Interstate 275 over Old Tampa Bay. Close to 200,000 vehicles per day cross between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties on this bridge. Including the causeways on each end, it consists of 9.9 miles of eight-lane highway – four lanes in each direction. While crossing it, I had some interesting observations. Granted, I was in the height of rush hour. Nonetheless, the experience was noteworthy – enough to not only remember it, but also to share it with you.

If you can visualize four lanes in front of you, counting them from right to left, 1, 2, 3, and 4, I was ensnared in Lane 3. The speed limit on the bridge is 65 mph – I was doing 75, scared to death. The traffic in front, in back and on both sides spoke loudly: don’t slow down, don’t speed up, and don’t even think about changing lanes! With a white-knuckled, 10-2 death grip on the steering wheel, I maintained my relative status quo. Intermittently, however, I looked around (and just for the fun of it, named the drivers).

When I quickly glanced to my right, I saw Text-Messaging Teddy in his new Chevrolet Tahoe, his eyes darting up and down from the windshield to his i-phone. My nervousness ratcheted up every time his thumb thumped the i-phone keys – he would slowly drift toward me and then swerve back into his lane. Directly in front of me was Teri, tuning in a radio station while driving a Toyota Camry convertible. With the top down, the wind was tossing her beautiful blonde hair all around and pushing her blouse tight against her chest. Adding to her noteworthy appearance was the top strap of her seatbelt – as it crossed her admirable attributes their image was akin to the Grand Tetons. I suspected that Teddy’s darting eyes also had noticed them. In my rearview mirror, I saw Shaving Sammy in his silver Subaru. Positioning himself slightly to the side, Sammy was able to keep one eye on the road ahead and one on the rearview mirror and the stubble he was removing from his face. Two lanes to my right, in Lane 1, was Eyelash Eileen in her two-door Eclipse. After positioning herself similar to Sammy, Eileen was steering with her left hand and curling her eyelashes with her right. Very talented. Six inches behind Eileen’s rear bumper was Hairstyling Harriet, driving her old Honda with her knees, brushing back her long black hair – a hairbrush in one hand, a hairclip in the other. Exceptionally talented. Halfway over the bridge, Latte Lynn in her white Lincoln flew by me on my left – stirring something into her recently purchased morning coffee. Right behind her, almost as if being towed by Latte, CEO Cell Phone Carl, in his shiny new Cadillac, flew by as well. He also must have been driving with his knees – his cell phone was in his right hand, and with his left hand he was pointing to columns in the air – the same ones his staff was looking at in the office. Ah yes, leadership at its finest. Then I saw Mustang Mickey – he slingshot out into Lane 4 with a sense of purpose. Replace the Oakley’s with a helmet, and he was coming off the third turn in Daytona. Ah grasshopper… he saw the Tetons.

When finally off the bridge, I slowed with the rest of the traffic and thought, “Jeez, look at these idiots… is anybody really driving?” Then I smiled. “I’m an idiot too,” I considered. “I wasn’t paying full attention to my driving either – I was watching them.” But I’m a research professor… yeah, that’s it – I was being observant, collecting data.

Sadly enough, according to Accidents.com, there were nearly 6,420,000 auto accidents in the United States in 2005. The financial cost of these crashes is more than 230 Billion dollars, 2.9 million people were injured, and 42,636 people killed. About 115 people die every day in vehicle crashes in the United States – one death every 13 minutes. Moreover, at Lawcore.com, their article entitled “Car Accident Statistics” states, “Many car accidents are caused by people talking to other passengers while driving, and others due to drivers playing with the radio while driving. A large percentage is because of eating or drinking while driving and 25% of car accidents are caused due to talking on the mobile phone while at the wheel of the car. These car accident statistics are sad enough on their own, the saddest part being that they could have easily been avoided had drivers been paying more attention to driving and less to other activities.

In an AAA article, “Crashes Caused by Inattentive Drivers are Nothing New: Cell phones are the Latest Distraction,” its author, John Goepel, says, “Falling asleep at the wheel may be the ultimate failure to pay attention, but drivers who are adjusting the radio, trying to discipline small children, or holding cell phones to their ears also contribute to the accident rate. And inattentive driving is a major cause of collisions: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that it's involved in at least a quarter of all crashes… The latest, most visible and most controversial source of driver in-attention is the handheld cell phone.”

AAA also recommends you not use your cell phone while driving. However, if you must call when behind the wheel, AAA suggests:

  • Recognize that driving requires your full attention.
  • Before you get into the car, become familiar with the phone's features.
  • Use the phone only if it's absolutely necessary.
  • Use the phone only when and where it's safe to do so.
  • Ask a passenger to place the call for you and to do the talking.
  • Keep the call short.
  • Tell the person at the other end that you're driving.
  • Get off the phone as soon as possible—especially in traffic or bad weather.
  • Don't combine a phone conversation with other distractions.
  • Secure your phone so it doesn't become a projectile in a crash.

AAA also provides sources of additional information:

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety:
www.aaafoundation.org.

For more about AAA's position on cell phones and safety, visit
www.aaapublicaffairs.com.

For information on the AAA/Verizon cell phone, visit
aaa.com or call (800) 227-5038.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For the industry's viewpoint, visit the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association site:
www.wow-com.com.

When driving your vehicle, it may be helpful to keep these statistics in mind and not be a Text-Messaging Teddy, Radio-Tuning Teri, Shaving Sammy, Eyelash Eileen, Hairstyling Harriet, Latte Lynn, Cell Phone Carl, Mustang Mickey or even a Data Collecting Professor. Your life may depend upon it.

Question: Have you seen any characters like these where you live and drive?

Bill

4 comments:

Mostly Happy Thoughts said...

Cute post. And educational too :) I'll have to start thinking up creative names for people I encounter.... although I don't think I have a knack for that sort of thing. I bicycle to work, so I have to be extra careful when I merge with traffic that the cars actually see me and not pretend I am invisible as they often do. Last night I dreamt I was hit by a a car while biking to work, so I was extra cautious today..... Those statistics are crazy and scary!!

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello MHT,
Thanks for your gracious comments... I actually was laughing as I was watching what was going on while I was driving across that bridge.
Interestingly enough, I believe that as a bicycle rider and a motorcycle rider, I, like you, are more aware and cautious. And for the record, that's a good assumption -- when I'm on my Harley, I assume the driver doesn't see me (on two wheels, that's an assumption I can't afford to make).
Be safe and keep the shiny side up!
Bill

Cole said...

Hi Bill! As usual your posts make me both laugh and think. On this one, I laughed, though acknowledge the underlying warning.

Your post on parenting... that was cool too. I liked the analogies!

Hope you are having a great week!

Cole

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Cole,
Thanks for returning... it's been awhile (I know you've been busy). Thanks for your gracious comments... glad you enjoyed the humor and saw the gravity of the issues.
Yes, the "Parenting..." Post is interesting... the metaphor rather on the money.
I've been following your blogs and enjoying them... just haven't had anything worthwhile to offer in terms of a comment.
Thanks again... have a great upcoming three-day weekend!
Bill