Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More Dangerous Than a Drunk Driver - Traffic Stories

When I lived in Miami Beach, I used to come home from the office each day burned out - not by my work, but by the 10-mile commute. To vent, I would tell Kathleen "traffic stories."

Like the time the guy in front of me slowed down, stopped his car, turned off the ignition, got out and went into a store to buy something - without bothering to find a parking space! 

Or the time at a traffic light intersection, when the cars in the opposite lane had a left turn green light and were turning in front of me. After their light turned red and my light turned green, the drivers ignored the light and kept on streaming in front of me - for fifteen seconds!

Or the time this lady in the far right lane suddenly turned left in front of the two lanes of traffic next to her. At the last second, she realized where she had to go, so she did what she had to do!

Or the time when I followed a car that seemed to have no driver. When I pulled up next to it, I realized that it was an old lady who was so small I couldn't figure how she saw over the steering wheel. She was wearing an oxygen mask, which was fed by a tank in the passenger seat next to her!

Stuff like that. It would drive me crazy. I still recall the waves of pure joy I felt when I finally put Miami Beach in my rear view mirror for the last time.

I used to wonder, who are these people? It was a sincere question. It bothered me so much that I made a list of what kinds of people would drive like that. 
  • Tourists who had turned their brains off because they were "on vacation" and they had no idea where they were or where they were going
  • Party animals full of booze or high on drugs
  • Commuters heading home from the day's work who were totally exhausted and nodding off at the wheel
  • People who were furious at something and were distracted by their emotions
  • Senior citizens who had impaired vision and responsiveness but who refused to give up their driver's licenses
  • Sick or injured people with diminished capacity
  • People watching birds, the ocean and scenery
  • People having animated conversations with their passengers
  • Parents trying to control misbehaving kids
  • Competitive NASCAR wannabes who imagined themselves on the race track
  • Late people trying to make up time
  • Impatient people trying to get to the 7-Eleven 30 seconds early
  • People singing out loud to their favorite pop music
  • People driving junkers with cracked windshields, one headlight and bad brakes
  • Outlaws who thought safety regulations were uncool
  • Third-world visitors who learned to drive on dirt roads with no signs or traffic laws 
  • Flakes, bozos, and other clueless gentlefolk who made bad choices
It's a pretty scary list. What are the chances I would meet some these people on the way home? You already know the answer. No wonder I had traffic stories every evening. 

But that was over a decade ago. These days we have something altogether new and a much greater threat to public safety. You see them slowing down and weaving in their lane. When you pull up next to them at a stop light, you see them looking down into their laps.

Texters. The newspaper report reads like this, "The driver lost control of her vehicle and....."

Here's the deal. The human brain can focus conscious awareness on only one thing at a time. 

This is a scientifically proven fact. It's a physical biological limitation, which no doubt exists to enable problem solving. If we could be aware of everything at once, our consciousness would be flooded with so much input our brains couldn't sort through it in time to deal with it.

So when a driver is concentrating on keying in the right letters of a text message, guess what he has no awareness of. That's right. He won't notice changes in the traffic around him, like a turn in the road, a sign posting reduced speed, a pedestrian trying to cross, or a car braking.

The same is true of voice conversations on a cell phone, even "hands-free." When you're truly paying attention to what is being said, you lose awareness of everything else. The best you can do is switch your awareness back and forth, which makes for inept conversation and dangerous driving.

Drunk drivers have impaired awareness of the road. Texters - while they're texting - have no awareness of the road at all. And what if a driver using a cell phone also happens to be one of the crazies in the above list? It's too terrifying to even think about...

Why am I telling you this? So you won't assume that you're the exception and that you can handle the multi-tasking. You can't. If you've been doing it and you haven't had an accident yet, don't get all righteous and cocky. You've been lucky. I'm telling you so you'll JUST SAY NO to cell phones while driving, before your luck runs out. And so that you'll spread the word. So that maybe someday that friend of yours out there will leave the cell phone off and not run into me while I'm making my way home.

Whenever a friend or family member leaves in a car, I always wave and say, "Watch out for the crazies!" They laugh and wave back. But I'm not joking. Don't be one of the crazies. 

An amazing story about one of the crazies...

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from


Unknown said...

Spending a lot of time in the car myself, it is tempting to try to use that time to get something done other than driving. Thanks for the reminder.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

I couldn't agree more with this. Nearly anytime I see somebody driving erratically anymore, they are using a cell phone in some capacity.

I believe the law says you have to pull over to use a cell in Texas, does it not? I always mention Texas as a good example of a very wise law.



Anonymous said...

Nice information.Thanks for sharing..

shareandi said...

I'm guilty of this and have had two crashes and several mopol warnings from doing it. It is as if a whole world of business catch-ups would just slip off if you didn't make or receive those calls, or just send a quick sms! But, I do think this is not a rule, but a necessary precaution and lifesaver and does deserve some serious abiding.
As always, thanks Denny for your thoughts.


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