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Distracted driving detox

In the intervening years, we have seen the aforementioned answering machine, which morphed into voice mail, fax machines that sent documents over the phone line, email, cell phones and text messaging. Smart phones with games and web browsers, text messaging and email access are the norm now for most of us — and we are addicted.

We are addicted to being connected and as with most other addictions, its killing us.

Few people would argue they can text and drive safely, and most now accept that handheld cell phones are equally dangerous. While many will continue to argue that hands-free calling is safe because it does not involve manipulating the phone while driving, all research indicate the opposite as the distraction caused by cell phones is not principally as a result of using your hands; it’s the cognitive distraction that results from processing the conversation while simultaneously attempting to attend to the driving task.

GPS, mobile music players, radios and any other activity that pull your attention from driving is a distraction, as are the ongoing challenges of children and pets as well as other passengers.

Auto makers are now including technology that will allow drivers to interface with the web, text messaging and email as well into new vehicles which causes me great concern. While they assure us they will recommend that this technology is used in a responsible way while not driving, the seductive lure of instant information is, I fear, too great for many to resist.

How many of you have heard the tone for a text, email, voicemail or the ringer of your phone while driving and responded with “just a quick peek?” I'm guilty, and I feel guilty because I'm supposed to be a safety professional. I know the risks, law and penalties and still, I have had that quick peek.

So I guess I'm addicted too. I recognized my addiction slowly as I came out of denial. At first, I tried (as many others addicted to alcohol or drugs will) to control my compulsion to use my device constantly —even while driving — and I was somewhat successful, but the temptation was great; especially if I was expecting a call or waiting for a text or email. I tried to be a good boy and pull over to answer the phone and only check text messages at traffic lights. This created a whole new set of distraction issues as I looked for a quick, easy, safe spot to pull over where often there was none, and recognized early that taking my eyes off an intersection while waiting for the green was just as dangerous (and illegal) as texting while moving.

Cold turkey was the only real solution. Now I turn off the phone or switch it to silent when I get in the vehicle. Problem solved. I can check when I have reached my destination or plan a stop to deal with business along the way.

Recently, I had the good fortune to travel in Europe where my mobile phone didn’t work, and even spent a week on a boat where there was no internet connection either.

 The world didn’t end. My business continued to operate under the guidance of my staff, and I detoxed from the addiction. I recognized that I can indeed turn back the clock to when someone called and I didn’t answer; they would just have to wait, as would I until I was able to connect safely. It was kind of nice to be totally out of contact. Weird, but nice.

Spencer McDonald

Spencer McDonald is the president and founder of Thinking Driver, a driver training and development company in Surrey, B.C. Spencer’s formal education is in psychology and motivation, and has brought these fields together with road safety and education to develop attitude-based driver safety programs. Visit www.thinkingdriver.com for more information.
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