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Mindless Driving/Walking

The word “mindless” troubles me sometimes. Mindless eating, at a movie or when watching TV or reading a mystery, can put on unwanted pounds. Not paying attention to what a family member is saying to you can lead to hard feelings.

And some mindless behaviors can kill you. MINDLESS DRIVING like, for example, texting while driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that driver distraction was the cause of 16% of all fatal crashes and 21% of all crash injuries. This means 5800 people were killed and 515, 000 injured. Horrific figures.

Actually drivers talking on either handheld or hands-free cell phones are road menaces. Both types of phones distract drivers. Motorists who used either type of phone while on a driving simulator drove a bit slower, were 9% slower to brake, displayed 24% variation in following distances as they switched attention from talking to driving, were slower to resume normal speed after braking, and were more likely to crash. Three drivers rear-ended the pace car.

Cell phone users are 5 times more likely to have an accident than undistracted drivers which is about the same risk of drivers with a 0.8 blood alcohol level. Because more people use cell phones when driving than people who drive while intoxicated, the individual and public health implications of cell phone usage is huge.

A study that used two people as lab rats got base line readings of reaction times. When the study subjects read or wrote a text their reaction times worsened. One driver drove 21 more feet before braking when reading a text and 16 feet more when texting. The article published in Car and Driver reminds us that driving requires we keep both our eyes and minds on the road. “The next time you are tempted to text, tweet, email or otherwise type while driving either ignore the urge or pull over. We don’t want you rear-ending us.”

Sadly new drivers are prone to having an accident when they text. And, alas, many teens do text while driving. Until the law catches up with cell phone usage in all 50 states parents have to be crystal clear about the “on the road, off the phone” rule with new teen drivers. Dr. Heins feels that ALL parents should drive with their teen for at least six months, under all conditions before permitting solo driving. (In Michigan where my twin grandchildren live, parents must supervise driving for a year after the teen takes Drivers Ed and gets a driving permit. Only then is the teen licensed to drive.)

When the twins got their license I called each of them to offer my congratulations at this milestone and said, “I am only going to say this once: Do not ever use a cell phone to listen, talk, or text while driving. Pull over. I love you too much to see you hurt or to have to live with thoughts of another person you hurt.”

About two weeks later I called back. I had just read an article about MINDLESS WALKING. It seems that walking around with any gadget plugged into your ears is dangerous. The music may be great but so is the risk of being injured. Researchers studied 116 incidents of pedestrians struck by a moving vehicle or train while wearing ear buds or headphones. There were 81 fatalities. More than one-third were under 18. Many of the injured victims did not hear a horn or siren. Duh! If your ears are plugged you obviously miss hearing a warning.

On this phone call I told the twins I loved them too much to see them walk around outdoors with plugged ears.

Parents: Be sure your children know the dangers of both distracted driving and walking while deafened by ear buds. Either offense would mean confiscation of the dangerous gadget in my house.

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