The first I heard of it was when FocusDriven President Jennifer Smith posted on Facebook that she was flying to Washington to help with a news conference concerning distracted driving.
What happened is some lobbyists decided that “the distracted driving issue has been ‘hijacked’ by national transportation authorities and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, who has encouraged motorists to pledge to put down their devices,” according to a report in The New York Times.
A Washington lobbying firm, Seward Square Group, said that the auto and technology industries have become “collateral damage” in the debate. It wanted to create a coalition called “Drive,” composed of car and device makers and wireless companies, and also safety advocates and emergency services personnel.
And oddly, guess who the public face was supposed to be: Jim Hall, a former head of the National Transportation Safety Board who works for the Seward lobbying group.
Seward spokesman Babak Zafarnia said the idea was to emphasize driver education and to focus on broad driver-distraction laws, rather than focusing on the use of particular technologies.
“You can’t anticipate every possible scenario. Distraction is distraction, period,” he said. “Why don’t we modernize the education curriculum to teach drivers to deal with all in-vehicle distractions?”
When given a copy of the Seward memo, Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood became alarmed by what he interpreted as an effort to undermine the creation of tough laws aimed at discouraging drivers from using electronic devices behind the wheel and decided to hold a news conference on July 7.
LaHood said the chief distraction problem “is caused by people using cell phones and BlackBerrys, and to correct the behavior, you have to have tough laws with good enforcement.”
LaHood wants to continue using the template for discouraging cell phone use (talking and texting) while driving that was used to make laws covering seat belt use and drunk driving.
The group and others opposed to LaHood’s initiatives go on to say that driver distraction can arise from a wide variety of sources including: conversations with passengers, eating, consuming beverages, smoking, tending to children, etc.
But after LaHood held his press conference it was announced that the Seward Square Group was abandoning its plan to obstruct DOT and others’ efforts to end distracted driving.
“Our collaborative effort simply sought to expand the discussion to include other common forms of distraction,” Zafarnia said in a statement. “We are pleased that the concept has met its goal of expanding dialogue on distracted driving; therefore, the proposed coalition is no longer being pursued.”
I know that distracted driving is more than cell phones use and texting, but does that mean we shouldn’t try to stop the deadly behavior?
One Sunday evening recently it was reported on the local news here in Little Rock that a driver heading south on Interstate 430 had driven into the Arkansas River.
It seems this 19-year-old woman, Pierce Boyd, heard her cell phone ring and reached over to the passenger side of her Toyota Yaris to grab it. She said her car went airborne and the next thing she new she was out in the river and her car was filling with water. After having the thought “this is horrible, I don’t want to die in this car,” Boyd tried to open her Yaris door but it wouldn’t budge, she was able to roll down a window manually and get out of the car after she grabbed her Bible and, of course, her cell phone.
Luckily for her, Ted Jolley was driving behind her and saw the whole thing happen. He pulled off the interstate, ran down to the river and swam about 40 yards to pull her out. Moments later the car sank. The next day sonar equipment was unable to locate the car.
Jolley, a dentist, said he was just in the right place at the right time, according to a report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
For Boyd, on the other hand, it was nothing short of a miracle that she survived since Jolley said she veered across three lanes of traffic before driving into the lake. And if Jolley hadn’t reacted so quickly she might still be in that Yaris that police have been unable to locate under water.
Sure distracted driving can take many forms, some of which have been around since long before cell phones were owned by a majority of Americans. And of course the people who make them want to protect their business, but using a cell phone while driving and texting while driving are risks to the life of the user and those who share the road with them.
In the case of Boyd, even though she wasn’t on the phone when it happened, reaching for the phone did cause her to almost lose her life and others could have easily been involved in a wreck with her as she crossed all of those lanes. If we all simply had the mindset that we aren’t going to drive and talk or text perhaps she wouldn’t have reached for it.
I have an idea that might stop cell phone users from talking and texting while driving: What if insurance did not cover a person who was found to be using a phone while the wheels are turning on a big rig or automobile? I think ensuring that innocent bystanders and other drivers are covered if hit by these people is important, but perhaps if they knew any wreck they had was not covered for them it might stop the use of all cell phones while driving.
It could be like the ‘Click it or Ticket’ campaign but I haven’t come up with a catchy phrase and logo yet. You might not be in ‘good hands’ with Allstate if your hands hold a cell phone either for texting or talking.
Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
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