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Distracted Driving: Why Do We Use Our Phones While Driving?

Distracted Driving – (Again)                                                January 28, 2013

Yesterday I read in the paper that a new survey by the AAA Foundation for Safety shows that although most drivers admit that using a cell phone while driving is dangerous, more than two-thirds say that they have done so recently.  This disconnect between what we should do and our actions in actual practice is something that I can understand.

For many of us, myself included, since childhood the ringing phone was an urgent call to action.  There was no thought of letting it ring or any indifference to who might be calling or what they might be calling about.  The ringing phone was no less compelling than as if it was a call for help from someone caught in a burning building, or from someone in mortal danger during a robbery, which it might have been for all we knew (and this was, of course, before 911).  Letting a caller dangle on the other end of the line while the phone continued to ring was unthinkable, the height of discourtesy and incivility.  We were duty bound to run, not walk, to pick up the receiver.

So now enter the mobile telephone which nearly everyone carries on his or her person at all times with rare exception, including, of course, while operating a motor vehicle.  When the darn thing starts ringing, with whatever exotic ring tone we may have selected, the ingrained reaction, at least for people with my upbringing, is to tap or swipe, depending on the model of phone, to put it to the ear and to answer with a polite, “Hello?”.

We are well aware that driving while talking on a cell phone is dangerous and that many serious, even fatal, car accidents are caused by distracted driving, but failing to answer the call takes a grim determination and self-discipline that is no easy task to manage.  The longer the phone rings the more and more guilt gets piled on.  Maybe our failure to answer is an affront to a good friend, or perhaps it is Aunt Gertrude calling to inform us of the death of Uncle Charlie.  We might be missing the call we have been hoping for on some great business deal.  Or it might be a call for help from someone caught in a burning building.

Hopefully we will, in time, be able to train ourselves to resist the temptation to answer the phone while driving, but I have no doubt that it will take a major effort.  I have even observed men who answer the siren call of the cell phone in the middle of a round of golf!

Don Lowry



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