In 1953, science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury created a short story entitled, “The Murderer.” Set in the future, it is about a psychologist assigned to evaluate a man being held in protective custody because he has destroyed all of the communication devices in his life; telephone, computer, TV, wristwatch radio. During the interview the man even offers to destroy the psychologist’s telephone wristwatch. The man had simply been driven mad by the constant communication with his family, his friends, his work. Seeking some relief he had set about destroying every device that imposed on his peace and quiet. And for that he had been arrested.
Published over fifty years ago, the story has striking relevance today with regard to the world’s gleeful addiction to total immersion in aural and visual stimuli via cell phones, the internet, texting and tweeting. In a relatively short period of time since their invention, the general public has integrated these various devices into every aspect of life, most notably while driving. The practice demonstrates a disturbing disregard for safety and common sense, risking bodily injury in trade for some connectivity while driving.
To a motorcyclist this new trend presents a very real, very immediate concern; that one might be taken from this planet because of a driver’s insistence on texting to a friend — in the ubiquitous airwave parlance — such urgent and necessary transmissions as; “You go girl,” or the popular, “Whaddup?” This epidemic addiction represents a genuine threat to motorcyclists by virtue of a simple law of physics; cars weigh a lot more than a motorcycle.
This dangerous, increasingly accepted norm of drivers being drunk on texting and fumbling with dialing has resulted in a serious increase of accidents. The Auto Club has conducted studies and found that drivers who are texting, dialing or chatting effectively reduce their concentration and reaction times to those on par with someone who is legally drunk, increasing the risk of an accident four-fold. Now consider this; a whole lot more people are texting, dialing and yabbering than are drinking. Do the math.
This obsessive fascination with cell phones has lead to a burgeoning vehicular dance craze I call the Texting Weave. It looks a lot like the dance usually attributed to the traditional drunk; slow response to traffic lights, repeated drifting into adjacent lanes, blowing through stop signs. However, this new dance craze has a much broader following than drinking because most everyone has a cell phone these days. It’s a regular party.
In my experience I’ve noticed the majority of drivers have enough trouble just executing the task of driving, let alone the added distractions of dialing a number or texting. Add to the equation screaming kids, impatient and perpetually late drivers with an increasing level of rudeness and you have a recipe for absolute terror and mayhem on our roads.
Exactly when did driving become such a blasé and boring affair that drivers needed to find something else to do when they’re behind the wheel? And what the hell are all these people talking about? I’ve overheard my share of conversations and it doesn’t seem there is much people have to say to one another when they’re face to face, let alone on the impersonal nature of a cell call. So exactly what needs to be said while driving that is so vital that it’s worth risking killing and maiming?
Riding on the Pacific Coast Highway recently I witnessed all of the vehicles in my immediate vicinity doing the dance. Five very large, very menacing SUVs were intexticatingly meandering along, tires repeatedly crossing into their dance partner’s lanes with their pilots-in-charge completely drunk on texting, dialing, and chatting. No one honked, no one seemed to mind. It gave me pause.
I shudder at the thought of what was being said during the mounting rash of fatal accidents attributed to distracted driving that was so important as to warrant the taking of a life. I feel that if people are going to continue this practice (which by the way has been deemed illegal in a number of states — though you wouldn’t know it by the proliferation of the practice) then it should be mandatory to publish the names of drivers involved in these distraction-induced accidents along with the words that were being spoken or texted at the time of the mishap.
As a motorcyclist I have always been acutely aware of the dangers posted by other motorists. It comes with the two-wheels versus four-wheels territory. The danger has always been present and comes in all shapes and sizes; stupidity, lameness, carelessness, greediness, impatience, anger, and, the most egregious; intoxication–either by drugs or alcohol. However, unlike driving drunk or while impaired on any number of drugs, for some reason this new fascination with trying to communicate while driving seems to enjoy a high degree of tolerance. There doesn’t seem to be much public outcry over it.
Personally, I think it should all be made a crime; dialing, texting, even hands-free talking should all be illegal while driving a car. Also, reading the newspaper, eating, shaving, applying make-up, doing crossword puzzles, working on the computer, watching movies and TV (all of which are activities I have seen more than once over the years).
Yes, I have a cell phone, but when a call comes in while I’m driving I pull to the shoulder to answer it. Personally, I don’t think I could ever live with myself if I caused any bodily harm to someone just so I could take a call. When you think about it, how many of our calls are really that important?
After a recent near head-on with a black Mercedes being driven by a frantically texting woman who wandered into my lane–all that high-end German steel promising to pin me against the guardrail before a blast of my horn woke her from her stupor–I realized it’s gone too far. I have decided to reduce my two-wheel exposure to these idiots by limiting my riding time on city streets and freeways. I’m looking at doing more track days. Blasting around a track is feeling much safer then going up against several tons of steel being piloted by a distracted driver. I may be compromising my happiness, but in the interest of self-preservation I want to get away from this new electronic epidemic of impaired connectivity and reduce the odds of becoming a hood ornament for a cell phone junkie.
I wonder if Henry Ford could have ever of imagined the things people would end up doing while driving? Who knows, maybe the first person to put a radio in a car was chastised for its potential to distract a driver. Still, I have to believe most people would admit it’s gone too far. And just think, if the visions of some inventors ever come to fruition and flying cars come into vogue, we’ll be dealing with intexticated drivers not in two dimensions, but three. The gabbing morons will be above you and below you, coming at you from all directions.
The character in Ray Bradbury’s story, the one everyone takes to be crazy because he destroys all his communication devices, is starting to look like the sanest one in the bunch. Couldn’t we all use some peace and quiet right about now? SR