Here’s a breakdown of a recent lunch break: Leave office. Head toward the Midtown area for sustenance. At N.W. 18th and Classen, narrowly avoid being sideswiped by a driver going 10 miles per hour over the speed limit and not watching where he’s going; his eyes are focused somewhere below his steering wheel.
Perhaps he recently spilled boiling hot coffee in his lap. More likely, however, is that he’s Googling something ” hiking trips through the Peruvian Andes or whether the Oklahoma City sanitation department accepts cardboard for recycling or the history of, say, women.
There’s another near miss at N.W. 13th and Walker. This time, a woman is visibly yelling into a cell phone and runs a red light. After lunch, there’s a third close encounter with a driver who swerves out of his lane at N.W. 16th and Indiana while on a phone call. At N.W. 23rd and Penn, a young woman tapping at a cell phone keyboard doesn’t see that the light has turned green, causing five people behind her to have to wait for it to turn again.
This is not fiction.
Oklahoma, who are you calling? Ghostbusters? The president? What are you so wrapped up in that can’t wait for you to be out from behind the wheel of a car? What 140-character literary gem are you posting to Twitter that absolutely cannot wait five minutes for you to get where you’re going? What telephone conversation or Facebook status is so important as to justify endangering your own safety and the safety of motorists and pedestrians alike?
National Teen Driver Safety Week starts Sunday. Worth noting is that since 2000, teen fatality accidents are down 44 percent in Oklahoma, at least in part due to the state’s graduated license program that increases the freedom that teen drivers have behind the wheel the longer they have a license and manage to drive accident-free.
Here’s the bad news: The National Safety Council estimates that 28 percent of all automobile accidents ” more than 1.6 million crashes each year ” are caused by cell phone use. The NSC further breaks down the statistic to note that 1.4 million of those are caused by people who are talking on the phone, while 200,000 are caused by texting. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at any one time, 11 percent of all drivers are using cell phones, and that while doing so are four times more likely to crash.
And the good news: On Nov. 1, a new law will take effect in Oklahoma. While not directly addressing cell phone use, House Bill 2276, recently signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry, states: “The operator of every vehicle, while driving, shall devote their full time and attention to such driving. No law enforcement officer shall issue a citation under this section unless the law enforcement officer observes that the operator of the vehicle is involved in an accident or observes the operator of the vehicle driving in such a manner that poses an articulable danger to other persons on the roadway that is not otherwise specified in statute.”
Parents can set rules for teen drivers: no cell phone use in the car, etc. But all adults can set an example. Our lives and our safety are too important to us to endanger.
Gunter is an Oklahoma City-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter at @okaycitynate, as long as you’re not driving.