As someone who considers himself a safe driver, I am outraged – outraged! – when I look over at a car next to me to see the driver with a cell phone in hand, texting. That’s my life you could be putting in danger, I want to shout to the clueless driver. Anything could happen in front of you, but you’d never know, because your attention is on that tiny little screen and tiny little keyboard.
And people talking on cell phones annoy me, as well. People need to pay attention when they drive. It’s very simple. What has happened to common sense? What could possibly be so important that it can’t wait until you are no longer operating a motor vehicle before ripping off a pithy response to the text you just received?
Unless you are, you know, me. Sure, I've done those things, but I have years behind the wheel. I know what I’m doing. Kids need to have more experience before they start doing other things while driving. Right?
Truth be told, I’m ashamed that I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to such behavior. I have, in fact, texted while driving, even though I know it’s an insane thing to do. I have typed band names into Spotify while driving down Alhambra Avenue, my eyes more on the tiny screen than the windshield. No excuses offered – it’s a dumb thing to do. It’s dangerous and we all need to stop doing it.
In April, the Martinez Police Department will be doing their level best to catch and cite anyone they spot texting or in any other way using a phone while operating a vehicle.
“As part the April 2012 Distracted Driving Awareness Month campaign, Martinez PD will be offering “zero tolerance” to those texting or operating hand-held cell phones on April 3rd and April 18th. Drivers who break the law and place themselves and others in danger will be cited. The current minimum ticket cost is $159, with subsequent tickets costing at least $279,” according to a release from the department.
“Distracted driving is a very serious issue.” said Martinez PD Chief Gary Peterson. “Cell phone use and texting, while driving, is such a serious concern that the Department will have zero tolerance policy during the month. Is that text message or cell phone call really worth $159 or the increased chance of a collision?”
According to those who keep such statistics, drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. Younger, inexperienced drivers under 20 years old have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes, according to these studies. In addition, they also show that texting while driving can delay a driver’s reaction time just as severely as having a blood alcohol content of a legally drunk driver.
Apparently, hands-free phone conversations are no safer. According to the release, “studies show that there is no difference in the risks between hands-free and hand-held cell phone conversations, both of which can result in “inattention blindness,” which occurs when the brain isn’t seeing what is clearly visible because the drivers’ focus is on the phone conversation and not on the road. When over one third of your brain’s functioning that should be on your driving moves over to cell phone talking, you can become a cell phone “zombie.”
While I salute the Martinez PD for issuing a press release with the phrase “cell phone zombie” in it, I also thank the department for focusing on this issue, because it is a growing and certainly dangerous problem. And knowing that special attention is being paid to this particular infraction may help keep my hands on the wheel, and off the tiny little keyboard.