I finally reached my limit with texting drivers

As a former LA traffic reporter, I’ve seen a lot when it comes to the behavior of drivers in arguably one of the most car-crowded places on the planet, so I shouldn’t be surprised to see how texting and driving has become so prevalent not just here, but literally everywhere. We all know it’s a problem and we also know it’s been scientifically proven it’s simply not something our brain is capable of doing.

Of course there have been driver distractions ever since the first non-control “thing” went into that first automobile. Whether it was a heater, or a radio, or even wipers, when the driver has to take his eyes off the road, his concentration goes with it. Again, scientifically proven that’s how our brains work.

But the difference between the in-dash radio and a hand held device is that you are asking way to much of your brain. Adjusting the heater, turning on the car radio, even using controls on the steering wheel, don’t require you to take your eyes off the road once you know where those controls are. Reading a text however most certainly does. In fact, it not only requires you to take your attention away from the road, but it also changes your focal depth from panoramic to a very small target. Plus your brain has to process the message, who it’s from, what it’s about, which also takes away your ability to process all the other things going on around you. I’m not the first guy to say this, but it’s a recipe for disaster that’s been played out time and time again.

So here I am, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon drive here in sunny Southern California, and what a lovely scene. Around 2:30 and the sun high overhead, beautiful landscape (in spite of our record drought), folks out enjoying the day.

I was a passenger on this fine day so I got a chance to see a lot I normally wouldn’t have. I noticed of course all the cars on the spacious boulevard we were traveling, and I noticed a gaggle of bicyclists (is that what you call a pack of cyclists, a gaggle?) enjoying the day in the designated bike lane. And of course I couldn’t miss the gardeners truck. They are extremely common here in Southern California.

If you’re unfamiliar with the kind of truck I’m talking about, it’s your basic mid to full sized pick-up with assorted tools of the trade strategically placed in the back. Usually a standard home size plastic trash can filled with rakes, shovels, hoes and other long-handled hand tools, handle down, head up. There’s usually a weed-whacker somehow attached, a mower tucked in there, and of course the ubiquitous dirt blower … er, I mean “leaf blower”. And inside at the wheel, a hard working guy who tends other people’s lawns and landscape. I have to hand it to these guys because they are in fact hard workers. Proof is the fact that most people here don’t want to do the work themselves, ergo so many of these trucks.

Before I go on, I have to tell you why I finally ‘lost it’ over what happened. I’m a cyclist too. I wouldn’t say an avid cyclist, but I do enjoy riding the 15 miles to the studio and 15 back, with most of that trip on paved off-road bike paths. On the road? Forget it! You truly are taking your life in your hands around here. I’m also an avid motorcyclist. I was riding motorcycles before I ever drove a car. But again, you have to have your head on a swivel if you want to ride around here. And by the way, I don’t lane-split or even go over the speed limit (which I’m sure aggravates the hell out of a lot of people) because I’ve hit the ground at low speeds, both on the motorcycle and bicycle, and don’t care to do it again, especially at the kind of speeds people drive around here.

So back to our story. Here we are, pleasantly gliding along the boulevard, me enjoying the scenery, when I notice the gardeners truck in front of us swerve into the designated bike lane. Well, it happens. You occasionally drift or flinch or some other thing that makes you drift one way or the other, so I didn’t think much of it. Then he did it again. And again! And again! He was swerving in and out of the designated bike lane! Why should I care? Remember that gaggle of cyclists? Every once in a while on my daily sojourns¬†around town I pass the occasional “ghost bike”. A ghost bike is something left behind by fellow cyclists when one of their own was hit and killed while riding. I’ve also been reading story after story recently where someone was hit and killed while cycling.

So when our friend the gardener repeatedly swerved and drifted into the designated bike lane, we in our vehicle thought: oh poor guy, long day and he’s dozing off! Well, pulling alongside showed the true cause of his dangerous and even deadly path. He was of course, texting while driving. Looking down and up again. Down and up, down and up. And each time, swerving into the designated bike lane.

That was it! All the stories I’ve read about cyclists being killed, all the close calls I’ve had myself, all the times I’ve passed cars on the freeway and noticed 8 out of 10 drivers screwing around on a hand-held device. It all became too much. I had to do something, but what? Call the cops and give them his license number? No, somebody could be killed before I even dialed the number. So, down came my window and when the guy looked at me, I powered up years of vocal training and screamed at him in my most authoritative announcer voice to get off his damn phone! You can imagine his expression. I probably looked like Manson, with my unkempt longish grey hair flying around (I had pretty long, wild hair then), large wild-eyes, screaming at this poor gardener. Noting his bewilderment, I went ahead and let another salvo fly … “Get off your damn phone!”

Whether he heard me or not, understood me or not, I think my tirade had the desired affect because I didn’t notice a single swerve post encounter. I did notice him beat it down a side street about as fast as any tool-laden truck would safely go.

Then I noticed all the cyclists roll up as we stopped at a light, unaware of the exchange (if you call me screaming at the guy and him looking wide-eyed with a shocked and slightly frightened expression on his face an exchange). I made it a point to notice each and every one of them, how old they were, gender, demeanor. They were having a great time in their gaggle, out there enjoying their beautiful ride on a beautiful day. I may just have successfully saved one or more of their lives, and that felt pretty good.

But I know my exchange with my gardener friend was just a drop in the bucket compared to how people behave when it comes to their hand held devices and what lies in store for so many others. I’m blown away that some states actually allow texting while driving. Study after study proves it can’t be safely done.¬† But our self importance, our need to feel we matter, drives us to do stupid and deadly things. I hate to say it, but unless someone’s life literally hangs in the balance, or you’re preventing the next 9-11, or cats are falling from the sky, it’s simply not that important. And I’m not talking about anything you don’t already know.

You’ve heard this so many times before but it seems like it’s only getting worse, we need to get people off the damn phone and paying attention to their driving! Honestly, I think it’s worse than driving drunk. At least a drunk driver is trying to focus as hard as they can on the fuzzy, undulating road ahead! We need a group opposed to texting and driving but the acronym sucks … MATD? How about we just take the steps in our daily life to encourage others to knock it off. And if it’s you, better watch out for the guy who looks like Manson screaming at you to get off the damn phone!