The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

It was a horrific scene. The pickup truck had smashed head-on into a bus taking elderly church members on an outing. Thirteen died. The 20-year-old truck driver said he had been texting when he swerved across the center line in Texas Hill Country. Moments before, a good citizen following the truck had called the police to report a truck driving erratically, as though there were no center line or even road.

Many Americans are so hooked on the flashing pleasures of smartphone use that they barely register the risks their distraction poses to themselves and others. Between 2010 and 2015, pedestrian deaths jumped an astounding 25 percent, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Cellphone use took much of the blame.

In Los Angeles, traffic deaths soared last year by 43 percent(!) over the year before. The 260 people killed included pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers. Although more driving — spurred by lower gas prices — plays a part, officials there see attention-diverting phones as a major culprit.

Sometimes it’s the driver whose mind is elsewhere, sometimes the pedestrian. But whoever is at fault, when a car collides with a human, the human usually loses. That’s why pedestrians account for nearly half the traffic deaths.

Driving through a college neighborhood at night, I often find myself veering around students lost in phone conversations as they dart from between parked cars while wearing black. Bicyclists are on cellphones.

I recently observed a woman charging past a don’t-walk sign and into oncoming traffic while chatting on a phone. She caught the situation in time and jumped back to the curb. What struck me was that she continued talking as though nothing had happened. The person on the other end probably had no idea how close that call came to being tragically ended.

The problem has several parts. One is that we don’t see walking as an activity requiring attention. (You know the insult, “He can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.”) Thus, we don’t see communicating via smartphone and walking as multitasking. But for pedestrians, the task is not just walking. It’s also negotiating traffic.

Another factor may simply be the accelerated pace of life. Concentrating on one thing seems a waste of our limited time, especially when that one thing involves waiting.

In this, your writer is no model of rectitude. Standing or even walking without earbuds or some riveting screen action often seems excruciating. In any line, I’m checking Twitter, messages and email, sometimes Facebook. And so are half the other people waiting.

This is apparently a real addiction. Phoning, Googling, emailing, texting — “each of these things tweaks the novelty-seeking, reward-seeking centers of the brain,” writes neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, “causing a burst of endogenous opioids (no wonder it feels so good!), all to the detriment of our staying on task.”

Texting is the worst. A study by the Washington (state) Traffic Safety Commission found that texting raised a driver’s risk of causing an accident by 23 times. Last year, 20 percent of the deadly accidents in the state were tied to distracted driving.

Insurance companies are very concerned. The average car insurance premium spiked by 16 percent last year, to an average of $926 nationwide. Much of it, the industry says, reflects the havoc unleashed by drivers engrossed in their gadgets.

The tragedy in Texas was remarkable for the high death count and the mind-blowing recklessness of the texting driver. But the national toll from distracted behavior continues to rise daily at a shocking rate. Laws governing what one may do under the influence of smartphones may help. Obviously, though, the problem goes deeper than that.

 

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Former President Bill Clinton leaves UCI Medical Center with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

CNBC screen shot

(Reuters) - Former U.S. President Bill Clinton walked out of a Southern California hospital early Sunday morning accompanied by his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after being admitted last week for a urological infection, live video showed.

Clinton, 75, had been in California for an event for the Clinton Foundation and was treated at the University of California Irvine Medical Center's intensive care unit after suffering from fatigue and being admitted on Tuesday.

Keep reading... Show less

Trumpist rioters rampaging in the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

The federal judge overseeing the Oath Keepers conspiracy case in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection ordered their trial delayed this week, primarily because of the overwhelming amount of evidence still being produced in their cases. Though the delay was expected, its reasons are stark reminders that January 6 will be one of the most complex prosecutions in history and that the investigation remains very active as more evidence piles up. There are likely some very big shoes still to drop.

Keep reading... Show less
x
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}