Monday, September 21, 2015

Hang Up and Drive and PLEASE PAY ATTENTION!

Attention (noun) 1. a concentration of the mind on a single object or thought…with a view to limiting or clarifying receptivity by narrowing the range of stimuli. 2. an act of courtesy      

Pay attention! Please.

That’s what I wanted to say to a fellow driver last week, whose lack of attention could have injured or killed her self, her middle school daughter, a delivery van driver, and me.  The story: I’m slowing my car, signaling to take a left into the church parking lot.  She is right behind me, crosses a double yellow line in her car to pass me on my left, placing herself squarely in the path of an oncoming delivery truck. She clips the front of the truck with a “BANG!”, swerves back in front of me, her car finally coming to rest by the side of the road. Truck and driver are ok, and me too.

I quickly pull over, run to her smoking and smashed car, its front end ripped apart and sticking out in jagged edges.  The windshield is smashed.  Her passenger wails in fear. And although the first thing I say is, “Are you both ok?”(they are), what I really want to ask is: “Were you actually paying attention to what you were doing?” 

We have an innocuous phrase now for this increasingly common form of vehicular attention deficit disorder: distracted driving.  Sounds so benign, like it’s just an annoyance, a harmless habit. Yet this dangerous, clueless, stupid driving is more and more the norm on our roads and byways. I especially noticed it this summer while out on my bicycle.  Tooling around on a twenty pound vehicle that can be crushed in a microsecond by a two ton behemoth, tends to focus one’s attention. So I’d roll up beside a minivan or a pick up truck, stop at an intersection across from a tractor trailer and then try to get the attention of those drivers so they’d actually see me on the road. 

Instead, with one hand casually gripping the wheel, so many drivers were looking down to send a text or read a text, or pushing a phone against their ears while blabbing away, or doing their make-up or eating a burger or slurping from an oversized coffee cup, anything but actually paying attention. This was the norm in half of the vehicles I came upon, sometimes more.  The only thing which seems to save me these days as I venture out on two wheels is a very loud voice as I shout: “I AM HERE!!!! Hey! HEY!!!”. Then I pray I am heard, that attention is paid.

Yes—I too am guilty of this vehicular lack of attention at times.  We are all are these days, as we drive.  Can’t let go of our phones in the car, not for a moment. We drive cars that are now more distracting than ever before too.  My little Honda can send and receive voice texts and phone calls, though most of the time all I do is yell at the dashboard, to no effect.  This would be comical if it weren’t so deadly. 

Distracted driving killed 3,154 people in the United States in 2013, and injured 424,000.  According to, the federal government site which tracks such sobering statistics, at any given moment 660,000 drivers are driving distracted.  Put your head down for just five seconds to read that text about your fantasy football league or the latest tweet from Kim Kardashian and at 55 miles per hour, you’ve traveled 100 yards, without ever paying attention.

I love my phone.  We all do. It connects us instantly.  It satiates our need for stimulation. It’s fun and convenient and most of us cannot imagine life without it anymore. Yet our addiction to screen time is literally killing our ability to pay attention and not just behind the wheel but in the rest of life too. A May 2015 study by Microsoft Corporation found that we wired humans now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. Homo sapiens pay attention for just 8 seconds on average, while our finned friends clock in at 9 seconds.  Maybe they should be driving our cars.

So imagine this, before you pick up the phone to text a friend or play with your I-Tunes or answer a call, all while flying down the road.  Your split second addiction to staying connected could kill someone.  Maim for life your loved one.  Could kill you, all in a heartbeat.  Is it really worth it to take that risk? 

So please: when you get behind the wheel--just pay attention.

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