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.