Cumberland Times-News


May 12, 2014

Drivers should focus totally on driving

— In response to the Times-News editorial of May 2 concerning the new state law banning hand-held devices as a primary driving offense (“Scofflaws: Too many drivers still texting, using hand-helds”), I feel compelled to submit a few thoughts.

I have never texted or spoken by phone while driving, nor do I ever intend to do so. This is primarily not due to any law or distraction phone and text talk pose, but because of the insidious, creeping anti-humanness represented by these instruments. Yet this is another story.

My overarching concern with outlawing the use of hand-held devices stems from the reasoning that they serve to distract the driver.

While there is no doubt that they certainly do so, aren’t there also countless other ways in which drivers are constantly being distracted? Perhaps there should be legislation making these behaviors illegal as well?

Some of these human hazards of motor vehicle operation fall within the categories of auto occupant conversations, listening to the car’s audio system, eating, drinking, singing, daydreaming, or viewing lovely scenery. And, of course, all of these activities are almost universally done by drivers everywhere.

The editorial went on to mention even hands-free phones are distracting since they require drivers to be mentally engaged.

More than this, for one to be absolutely “mentally engaged” with the act of driving it’s paramount to be solely focused only upon operating the vehicle safely. But given the value our culture places upon multi-tasking just how realistic is this?

I admit I’ve been generally seldom utterly focused when behind the wheel. Probably the only period I always concentrated on driving was during my junior year in high school just after receiving my driver’s license.

For it was then that I dwelled big-time upon doing exactly how I had been taught during driver’s education classes. At that time there was nothing which could distract me! I focused like a laser-beam on the principles of effective driving.

This was especially true for the admonishment to: “Keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times.” The only exceptions were when it became necessary to give a turn signal or shift gears.

Although it was only a few months later that I began to ever so gradually become increasingly comfortable with the skill of driving so I started the process of disengaging from it. The procedures of operating a car over time became largely routinized, habituated after awhile in the same fashion as does speaking, walking, riding a bike or catching a ball.

If repeated with sufficient frequency all skills turn into habits. Thus it was that, probably sometime after my first 50,000 miles of driving experience, I began putting the auto on “automatic.” This would enable me to do just about anything while driving since there was no need to consciously think about operating the car. My guess is that quite a few others have had similar experiences.

However, as with any rule this one also has had major exceptions. Whenever hazardous road conditions are encountered, e.g., snow, ice, fog, freezing rain, I quickly turn off “automatic” and return to full manual driving. At these times my attention is completely revetted to the vehicle’s safe operation.

It seems to me consistency requires that any behavior, not only hand-held devices, which diverts a driver’s attention from the task at hand should be illegal.

An auto operator should be totally focused upon the business of driving! However, such a condition would obviously be impossible to administer. Thus in the interim we all must await the advent of the driverless car that is rapidly approaching just over the horizon.

R. Steele Selby


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