In Defense of Texting and Driving*

The joy of rush hour

I found myself stuck in traffic last week during rush hour on Highway 62 running along the southern border of Minneapolis into St. Paul. As I was creeping along at a snail’s pace, my phone beeped. Without hesitation, I picked up my phone and texted a friend with one hand while keeping the other on the wheel. I immediately realized what I was doing and hastily put the phone down. My text was sent successfully (i.e.: accident free).

When not moving, it was hard not to look around and notice that EVERYONE was texting. The woman in front of me. The guy in the SUV next to me. The person behind. All texting. I was surrounded by criminals!

At that moment, the light bulb over my head flickered on: I can’t blame any of them.

When one texts behind the wheel, their chances of crashing increase; but if their cautious, the chances of crashing are still low. Under these circumstances, it’s easy to rationalize picking up your phone. This holds especially true when you consider that, while moving at 2 mph, so even if there was a crash, it likely wouldn’t be anything beyond a fender bender.

It is this rational that allows us to do what we know is dangerous. Plus, it’s not like driving is all that interesting; the views suck and the environment is dehumanizing. During interstate rush hour travel,  this is what drivers have the pleasure of looking at for countless miles:

To my right ...

To my right …

To my left …

And down the road a little bit.

Even if you’re not stuck in traffic on the highway, you’re probably experiencing a ‘stroad‘ – a street / road hybrid. These are mind-numbing places and let’s face it; what’s more interesting? Facebook or the frontage road?

This is a Stroad [from Naked City]. There are millions of miles of this across North America and it’s hard to imagine that someone wouldn’t want to be distracted while driving through.

The narrative is that our society has created ugly, dehumanizing environments that force millions of people to spend countless hours in automobiles, stuck in traffic or otherwise, and if given the option, people willingly put themselves and others in danger as a method of escaping these unpleasant environments.

Beyond other moving cars (which are important to note while driving), you’re certainly not missing anything outside beside landscapes that promote a certain type of crippling depression. All the while, there is a world at your finger tips. You can contact all of your friends (old, current and new), watch a viral Korean rap video or anything else to escape the dred.

Taking 35 minutes to trek a 5.5 miles stretch of road is frustrating. It can be stressful and boring, even with a good podcast.

Now imagine: people do this day in, day out for 5 days a week; and on average, about 250 work days a year. I can see where complete and utter boredom kicks in, and why so many text can fit in the category of distracted drivers. Why not reach for your iPhone? Why not check your mail, send a Tweet or poke an acquaintance?

For most people in the city, the allure of driving an automobile has worn off. It’s a mechanism of transporting oneself from point A to point B, not a means of self-expression or freedom. Driving might be fun when no one else is on the road, but that never happens. I find myself driving mostly in the city and usually in some form of traffic, even if its not at peak.

To say it again; the real, unfortunate narrative is that our society has created dehumanizing environments that force millions of people to spend countless hours behind the wheel, wasting gas, time and money; and if given the opportunity, people willingly risk their lives and the lives of others to escape these unpleasant environments.

__

* Important Note: I do not condone distracted driving. It’s a dangerous activity that should always be avoided. I don’t mean to defend distracted driving as the title implies, but to merely give a reasons why people drive distracted; the “defense” being the observation that we’ve created an inhuman landscape that most people would be happy to escape.


Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

, , , , , ,

5 Responses to In Defense of Texting and Driving*

  1. Andrew October 2, 2012 at 3:54 am #

    I text, IM, check emails, read Twitter, update G+, and nap on my way to work. Bus/Train FTW!

  2. Nathaniel M Hood
    Nathaniel M Hood October 2, 2012 at 4:42 am #

    Texting while riding transit is still legal. That's my understanding at least.

    I'm curious to know if the abundance of smart phones, wireless technology and tablets has changed anyone's transportation habits. Will more people ride a train or bus to work in order to operate their tablet without risking their life? I don't quite think we're at that point. One thing is for sure- it has made riding transit more enjoyable / tolerable.

  3. Andrew October 2, 2012 at 5:55 am #

    Well snarky comment aside, I use to drive to work and spent a ridiculous amount of time each week in the car. Around 2007 I discovered Google's transit directions and realized that my phone could decipher the bus system and help me get anyplace in town. Combined with the cost-savings of my workplace offering either a parking permit or a free monthly bus pass I switched to transit. While it does take longer now to get places I find it's always the *same* amount of time no matter the weather or traffic, and I'm almost always in a better mood when I get there. I don't dread my commute anymore.

    • Nathaniel M Hood
      Nathaniel M Hood October 2, 2012 at 6:03 am #

      Andrew – I love to hear tales of the converted. It's great that you're workplace offered free monthly bus passes. I wish more places would do that. If you live in one of the core cities, and don't work in Eden Prairie, I've found the same. Basically your time in transit is the same. – Nate

  4. BB October 4, 2012 at 7:08 am #

    It like having two addictions at once! Or three for you caffeine kidneys.

    Addicted to driving and addicted to texting.

    One's is a downer and ones kinda an upper.

    This rational also is seen with radar cameras and alike reporting devices.

    Don't track me unless your going to give me the latest traffic report.

    And don't allow me to be taxed with a gps, but allow someone to call 911 when I am hurt.