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Roving Eyes

By on May 3, 2010
RoadKing Mag

I have a lady friend who is a cross-country trucker. Often, to help her pass the hours behind the wheel on those long, straight stretches of roadway she knits, usually making caps, gloves and sweaters for family and friends. Because knitting usually requires two hands, she sometimes steers with her knees.

One late afternoon, she passed a highway patrolman sitting alongside the road. Noticing that her rig was weaving, he gave pursuit. When she didn’t respond to his flashing lights and siren, he pulled alongside her, switched on his loudspeaker and shouted, “Pull over.”

My lady trucker friend leaned out the window and shouted back, “No, it’s a crew neck.”

Distracted driving has gotten out of hand. There are too many distractions behind the wheel and not just from people knitting, texting, cell phoning or using a two-way satellite communication system. There’s more eating and drinking, grooming, playing with navigation devices, reading, ad nauseam, as drivers try to make their time behind the wheel more productive by multi-tasking.

I’ve no doubt distracted driving will get worse as the sophistication with in-vehicle technologies and portable electronic devices grows, allowing for further interaction with motorists.

Now there’s another growing problem caused by multitasking: walking while distracted. I discovered this after a couple of weeks of making deliveries in crowded downtown city areas. On several occasions my rig almost “met” a pedestrian because they were so involved in their electronic device they didn’t bother looking before crossing the street. I saw one lady so engrossed in texting she bumped into a sign post.

This kind of thing isn’t limited to downtown areas. I watched a trucker walking across a truckstop parking lot while dialing or texting on his cell phone, leading him to miss the pothole ahead of him. He stepped into it and went down hard.

Many of you may be saying to yourself, “This stuff doesn’t apply to me. For me, there’s nothing to cell phoning and texting while driving or walking.”

Consider this: Researchers studying the impact of multitasking are finding that just talking on a phone takes a toll on cognition and awareness because it disrupts a person’s attention to the visual environment. This occurrence has been labeled inattention blindness.

A variety of studies have been conducted to show that using a cell phone was such a distraction that people wouldn’t notice obvious events happening around them. Even though they looked at their surroundings, much of it didn’t register.

A study that graphically demonstrates this was done by researchers at Western Washington University. A student wearing a purple-and-yellow clown costume with polka dot sleeves, red shoes and a bulbous red nose, rode a unicycle around a campus square. After people crossed the square, the researchers stopped them and asked, “Did you see anything unusual?”

Of those talking on the cell phone, only 8 percent said they saw the clown.

Think about sharing the road with people like that.

Here’s a thought. We each make a pledge to minimize distractions while driving and walking and focus on the real purpose at hand: getting safely to our destination. That benefits everyone.
No matter how many laws our governments make, safe driving — and walking — happens when each of us takes responsibility for it, not because safety is mandated.

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