On our recent endlessly exhausting drive across New York, my teenage daughter and I noticed a number of signs on the thruway:
IT CAN WAIT
TEXT STOP 5 MILES
At first, I read it as "I.T. can wait." I.T. is the acronym for Information Technology, and in larger companies the I.T. department provides tech support. (Okay, I already said that the drive was endlessly exhausting, didn't I?) Of course, what they were referring to was "it," not "I.T." — "it" being that oh-so-urgent communication, practically burning a hole in your pocket, and demanding to be sent STAT.
Essentially, the new signs and the 100 or so new designated rest areas are the Empire State's concerted effort to curb texting and driving.
Texting and driving ranks high on the list of the stupidest, most self-destructive things we can do these days. It should have its own separate division of The Darwin Awards, which recognize individuals who have contributed to human evolution by self-selecting themselves out of the gene pool. In other words, they really die because they're really dumb.
Really funny, right?
We all know not to text and drive. We've seen the deeply disturbing commercials warning us (in many cases with the most graphical depictions) of the consequences. As parents of new drivers, we anxiously (frantically) remind our teens to put away the phones when they're behind the wheel.
Nevertheless, when that little "ding" goes off, alerting you to an incoming — no doubt, mission-critical — text, it's very hard not to check and see what it is. My daughter has promised to keep her phone on "airplane mode" whenever she's driving. I trust her intention, but I also know she's human. So, I nag and nag and nag, and then sometimes I pray a little too.
It's become as dangerous as drinking and driving. Don't believe me?
In 2011, at least 23% of all auto collisions — 1.3 million of them — involved a cell phone.
A typical text requires the driver to take their eyes off the road for at least 5 seconds — if they're going 55 mph, that means driving the length of a football field without looking.
Teens are at greater risk than adults: 82% own cell phones; 52% admit to talking on those phones while driving; and 34% admit to texting.
Yet, they don't recognize the dangers: 77% are "somewhat confident" that they can text and drive; in fact, 55% say "it's easy."
Despite my elevated anxiety level, I'm not as concerned about my daughter making a mistake now. Her license is still fairly new and she isn't on "automatic pilot" yet. She doesn't drive too often or too far yet. And she still pays at least some attention to the rules we make. I worry more about the future, when driving is old hat.
Because I understand, first hand, that the siren's song of the cell phone doesn't just lure teenagers.
Last week, I had a client meeting in a town about 45 minutes from my office. As per usual (go ahead and nod, fellow moms), I was running a touch later than I had hoped because I was trying to do too many things in too little time. As I pulled out and up the street, I realized that my cell phone was still charging next to my desk.
It was tempting to turn around, but I wasn't sure I had the minutes to spare. So, I continued ... without it. That's right, I knowingly moved ahead and faced a 2-hour meeting plus a 45-minute drive each way, sans mobile device. OMG.
I can laugh about it now, but I felt like an amputee. What if someone needed me? What if I missed something? What if I actually arrived at the client's office early?
I see it with my daughter and her friends. But, I see it in myself and my friends too. Texting means we have something to do every single solitary moment.
But, that doesn't mean we're living in the moment. And, as I will continue to remind my daughter again and again, if you choose the wrong time to text, you may not be living at all.
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