Paul is in a rear-ender crash – Part 2

Topics covered:

  • How drivers gradually transition from being highly diligent to being inattentive
  • How road safety laws about distracted driving actual compound the problem”

Was my outrage warranted? Was it fair for a reader to call her a twit?

She did fail what was plainly there to be seen ahead of her—a red light with fully stopped traffic. Her victim, in the last vehicle in the row of stopped traffic, might never fully recover. But does the offender deserve ridicule?

With a senseless rear-ender crash every six minutes in British Columbia, that are many “twits.” And they’re the tip of a much, much larger iceberg because there is a multitude of inattentive drivers for every one whose inattention causes a crash. But it’s unfair and unhelpful to ridicule only those whose inattention cause crashes as that ignores the bigger problem.

The driver didn’t choose to be dangerously inattentive. Nobody does. She came by it honestly. When we learn to drive, we are taught all sorts of safe driving behaviours, such as:

1. Walk-around of your vehicle and look up and down the street before getting in to back out of your driveway.

2. Look under vehicles parked at the sides of the street to watch for the legs of little folks who might dart out.

3. Keep your hands at the 10 and 2 positions on the steering wheel.

4. Shoulder-check every time you pull out, pass or turn right.

5. Wait until oncoming traffic is clearly stopped before completing a left turn.

6. Stay off your phone.

7. Etc., etc., etc.

But the importance of those safe-driving behaviours is not enforced. In fact, just the opposite occurs. You’re may in a hurry so you only check only your mirrors before backing out of your driveway. The odds were in your favour and a stroller wasn’t being pushed along the sidewalk. You experienced positive reinforcement for your road safety failure.

Your mind is on other things, and you don’t scan under parked vehicles for the legs of little folks. Again, the odds are in your favour. Nothing bad happens—positive reinforcement for distracted driving. You shoulder-check most of the time, but sometimes you miss doing it. Nothing bad happens and you miss doing it more and more. You gradually start reaching for your phone, first when waiting at stop lights but then here and there during light traffic. No crash. You are led to believe you can drive safely while engaging in telephone conversations and texting.

Our roadways and vehicles have become so easy to navigate and drive, it takes precious little attention to get from point A to point B 99% of the time. There are clearly marked lanes, easy to follow traffic lights and signs, and large bright yellow warning signs. Forget about texting, you could probably read a physical newspaper during your commute—99% of the time. The problem is, inattention leads to crashes.

We don’t make a choice to become an inattentive driver. It’s a gradual, step by step process. And it’s reinforced. Our increasing levels of inattentiveness are rewarded again and again because we make it safely to our destination. Road safety laws don’t help. They actually compound the problem.

Everyone (I hope) knows it’s distracting to engage in a cell phone conversation while you drive. It certainly was common knowledge before our provincial government passed cell phone driving laws in 2010. But our political leaders, contrary to a provincial government report that said there is no difference in the level of distraction between handheld and hands-free cell phone use, chose to ban only handheld cell phone use. That report is no longer available online. I’d be happy to e-mail it to you.

So, what loud and clear message did they give drivers? It’s perfectly safe to engage in cell phone discussions while driving as long as you spend the extra money for hands-free technology. That messaging leads to the logical conclusion it must also be safe to engage your brain in other distracting ways as well.

Our police forces conduct distracted driving “blitzes,” targeting hand-held phone use, further reinforcing the message that engaging in a telephone conversation while driving is not “distracting” as long as it’s hands-free. It drives me bonkers.

But back to my point. I’ve been an inattentive driver. I’ve been the “twit”.

I remember close calls. A column I wrote way back in 2012, told the story of a horrible crash in Kelowna on March 20, 2012, when a motorcyclist, with his wife on the back, was sitting at a complete stop in traffic at a red light on Highway 97 in Kelowna. The driver of an SUV was the “twit” in that crash.

The motorcyclist was killed and his widow suffered serious injuries. It was just another one of those senseless rear-end crashes that occur every six minutes in British Columbia.

I shared a technique a friend used to maintain attentiveness behind the wheel. Jess drives with her hands at the 10 and 2 positions 100% of the time. I said I was going to give that a try. I shared its success in a follow-up column a year later.

“I found it takes effort to keep my hands at a particular location on the steering wheel,” I wrote. “Any time my mind wanders, whether it be thinking about the office, my kids, or whatever the distraction, my hands naturally move to one of those more comfortable positions that most of us end up using after years and years of driving.”

It’s not about an optimal hand position. I had readers e-mail me to complain I had it wrong, that 9 and 3 is safer, or 8 and 4. The particular positioning isn’t the point. The point is to maintained a hand position. If your hands stray, that’s the wake-up call your mind has wandered. Try it.

Thank you for being patient with this road safety “distraction”. Next week I’ll get back to ways to protect against your estate going to someone else’s kids.

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