Pager, THROW!

I've had plenty of near misses on the road thanks to distracted drivers, and I'm tired of it.

It's like our society has a collective case of ADHD. No one can focus on the road and just drive anymore. Everyone's gotta be playing on some electronic gizmo.

I've yapped about this many times. I've been known to say "Pager, THROW!" in ASL. Every once in a while, I take it a step further and go into a full-blown rant about how The Matrix has become our reality:

EVERYONE'S PLUGGED INTO A FRICKIN' MACHINE! NO ONE CAN DRIVE TWO BLOCKS WITHOUT CHECKING THEIR EMAIL!

Think I'm exaggerating? Go stand on the corner and observe traffic. Look at how many drivers are yakking into a cell phone. Or, even worse, texting on one.

See how ornery I get when talking about distracted drivers? They really piss me off, so I decided that maybe I shouldn't write about it. No one likes a disgruntled wise-ass offering unsolicited advice.

I also noticed that several other writers have already covered this topic. They've made several excellent points with far more tact than I could possibly offer. So I told myself to shut up.

And then it happened.

SMASH! CRUNCH! BLAM!

Yep, I got rear-ended by a distracted driver.

Fortunately, no one was hurt. But two of my kids were with me. They're fine, too. Nonetheless, it was a sobering close call. Underneath the grateful thanks that everyone's okay, I'm also mad.

Hey! Precious cargo! Watch the damn road!

The gloves are off. It's time to put distracted drivers in their place.

First, let's talk about accessibility. It's been mentioned that it's not fair how hearing people can talk on the phone in the car while deaf people can't. This is where I disagree. This isn't about making the car more accessible for deaf people. It should be about making the car less accessible for the hearing folks who are chatting away on their devices.

I don't care who you are. Deaf, hearing, male, female, young, old, or whatever... the car is no place to be yakking with anyone on any kind of device. The car is meant for driving. Period. Eyes -- and mind -- on the road! Even if a device allows a hearing person to keep both hands on the wheel while talking to his bookie in Vegas or whoever it is he must yak with, it's still a distraction. Have you seen the looks on the faces of people yakking on their cell phones? Their eyes are all glazed over. They look like they've been smoking dope.

Oops, I owe pot smokers an apology. Research has shown that stoners are actually better drivers than the idiots who use their cell phones on the road. Seriously.

Second, the old What if there's an emergency? argument. Let's put that to rest right now. If there's an emergency, a bona fide disaster or calamity, there are people out there who are trained to handle them. They can hold the fort until you arrive safely at wherever you're going and get hold of the message when you're off the road. It can wait.

During the 1980s and 1990s, I was among the millions of other people who were able to drive to their destinations without having to be in constant contact with everyone. I actually enjoy driving to work on a beautiful day and admiring the scenery without any distractions. It's good for you.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with having better access to timely information. So if you absolutely must be contacted, you can get pinged! on your device. After which you simply pull over and respond to whatever message while safely off the road. Is that so hard?

Third, there's always someone who says but my boss/wife/friend needs me to respond right now! No they don't. They can wait. Let's say the average commute to work is 30 to 45 minutes. If your boss, wife, friend, bookie or whatever can't live without you for 30 minutes, there's something wrong with them.

Ultimately, I don't think it's really "them." It's us. Each and every one of us has to look at our own personal habits and make a change. Each and every one of us is guilty of becoming addicted to our electronic devices, our emails, our instant messages, our social networks, and so on. It's reached the point where it's us who just can't resist taking a look because it's oh, so addicting! (Note: In case I sound a bit holier-than-thou, let me raise my hand and shamefully admit I've done it. I've smoked more emails than a crack addict.)

I'm not exaggerating. The proof is out there. It's been documented that emails, instant messages and other e-distractions stimulate our brains the same way slot machines hook in an addicted gambler. This phenomenon is known as a variable-interval reinforcement schedule. In case you didn't feel like clicking the link, here's an excerpt from Mind Hacks by Tom Stafford and Matt Webb. This is the whole problem in a nutshell:

Checking email is a behaviour that has variable interval reinforcement. Sometimes, but not everytime, the behaviour produces a reward. Everyone loves to get an email from a friend, or some good news, or even an amusing web link. Sometimes checking your email will get you one of these rewards. And because you can never tell which time you check will produce the reward, checking all the time is reinforced, even if most of the time checking your email turns out to have been pointless. You still check because you never know when the reward will come.

See that? We're addicted. And it's causing a lot of problems on the road.

All right. That's enough ranting. But this is still a serious issue and people have died because of it. I'm thankful that no one was harmed in my recent accident, including the other driver (a very nice person who was truly as upset and shaken up as I was). So please, do yourself and everyone else a favor when you're on the road.

Put the cell phone away.