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Have you had any close calls while driving distracted? Witnessed any?

Have you ever had a close call as a result of being distracted... like while on the phone, or checking a caller ID? We'd like to hear about it. Did it put the fear of the morgue into you? And if so, for how many minutes? Has it permanently changed your behavior?

In exchange for your sharing your experience, you hereby had our assurance: we won't turn you into the authorities, your spouse, or your parents.

Tom and Ray Magliozzi
Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers

Nope, I watch what’s going on, and on the rare occasions that I do answer or talk on a cell I hangup if there is traffic. Depending on the traffic I won’t talk to people in the car with me.

I had one the day before yesterday - yet ironically it was I who was on the phone, but I was not the one that did something stupid, and I was the one that reacted in such a way that avoided a bad accident.

I was coming through a green light, a dump truck was coming straight the other way. The light had just gone green (before I got there) and the driver behind the dump truck was apparently very impatient to turn left. She started to go and made it halfway into my lane. I didn’t hit her b/c I am a very vigilant and defensive driver. I was expecting her to go. I handled it all despite the fact that it was I who was on the phone. Yet I was not a “distracted driver.”

I am capable of driving and talking. People do it all of the time with passengers in the car. Why is that not “distracted driving?” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - the “distraction” of the cell phone is overrated. (The phone is not in your title, but it is the only thing noted in the description). Lots of things are distracting, and focus on the phone is yet another poor way for us to focus our attention. (Let the criticisms now rain down).

Texting is a very different story.

One night I was driving home from work, and I had to stop by the store to get some items (probably beer). On the side street I was driving on, I looked to my right and noticed that my favorite local pizza joint renovated its outdoor bar, “pretty cool” I thought to myself. Suddenly, Lo and behold a parked car on the shoulder was looking me in the face (for better or for worse, it shouldn’t have been parked there), I was able to swerve, barely avoiding a rear-ender.

You don’t need to be eating a sandwich or talking on the phone to be distracted.

A few weeks ago a woman driving an SUV pulled out of Macdonalds while talking on her cell phone. She had to make a left turn at the next intersection, and cut across 2 lanes of traffic in front of me while still talking on her cell.

Loud horns blared, and I found it applicable to give her my middle finger, along with several other drivers.

I have never been clear on this cellphone thing. I have never used one in a car. But, it seems to me like the dizzy woman who cut across two lanes is probably always dizzy with or without a phone. I do know as I have gotten older, I stop doing things like tuning the radio when cars are close to me. And, if my wife asks me a thought type question when in congested traffic, I tell her to wait a minute. Way out in the country, on long trips, she does hand me a sandwich, but we wait until we have considerable space around us. And, I eat it without looking at it. She has it all folded so I don’t even have to look at it, we have done a couple hundred thousand miles this way, she has it down to a science, even the type of sandwich or other food is picked to be eatable without looking, and I never eat in metropolitan areas.

I do think young drivers who are well trained and have good driving skills can drive and talk on a cellphone without trouble. But, we are so far into ‘eekwallitee’ that when dummies can’t handle something, which is most of the time, we tend to make it illegal for everyone.

One time while messing with a radio long time ago. My Dad’s training kept me out of the hospital and/or morgue. He always hammered on “when you go for the ditch…you take the ditch”. So that’s what I did. Plowed down a fence and a few rows of corn. But it scared the bajeebers out of me. Spent some time after talking out loud “I will watch the road” “I will watch the road” . Cured myself. That was fifty years ago.

Just today, someone stopped quickly in front of me for no reason. I almost rear ended them because I simply didn’t react in a reasonable time. I was sort of scatterbrained today. Couldn’t really focus. But I was looking straight ahead. The radio was OFF. The Cell phone was out of sight and quiet. I just wasn’t focusing.

Any other day, I could have been eating a sandwich, listening to the radio, and talking on the phone all at once while steering with my knees, and still reacted in plenty of time. But I knew something was up today. The cobwebs were a bit thick in the noggin and when I realized this, I implemented the “sterile cockpit.” And I still zoned out. Got my heart racing, too.

But later I thought to myself, it doesn’t matter what reason or excuse we give for failure to supply the requisite focus to driving. We blame it on devices. Or substances. But what it comes down to is it’s our fault for being behind the wheel unprepared. What I did today was more dangerous than driving while texting. What I did today was the same as driving drunk. But there’s no law against driving while scatterbrained. The legislatures of all 50 states are not abuzz with new laws to ban driving without focus. There’s no whipping boy.

Right now, texting is the whipping boy. When will we realize that sometimes some people can multitask and drive fine, and some times people can’t handle the simple task itself?

There is a definate flight from acknowledging our responsibility for our actions. Let’s just blame it on phones, beer, and multimedia devices.

I haven’t yet, but if the designers continue to make everything menu driven and/or with sequential pushbuttons where I can only tell what configuration my vents are in or what channel my radios is on by taking my eyes off the road to go to a menu and look at a light changing diode display, a distracted-driving incident may be inevitable.

Commonly used controls used to be designed such that I could know where the settings are and change them to what I want simply by feel, never taking my eyes off the road. It seems that today’s designers are more concerned with “clean” panels than safe and intrinsically user friendly operation. BMW with its “I-Drive” is, IMHO, the height of unsafe design. Touch screen menu controls are contenders for the horrible design award.

Earth to NHTSA? Are you there?

Tom, Ray, I hope if you plan to use this thread in your show you add the piont about poor designs on commonly used controls as a contributor to distracted driving. Nobody anywhere talks about this, but I think it’s a real problem hidden in the “data noise”.

My best “driving while distracted” event really is a “operating while distracted” story. I was putting a Bobcat skid-steer in the back of a dump trailer (the “box” tilts to dump the load and this is also how we transported the skid-steer) all was going well until enough weight got in the back of the trailer and I found out (in a rather exciting way) I had forgotten to “pin” the tilt mechanisim of the box. In a matter of seconds I was staring straight up at the sky like I was Alan Shepard on top of an Atlas rocket. I let the bucket down to change the weight distribution and everything came crashing down.

Thinking that operating this type of equipment could lead to my demise, I sold the Bobcat soon after this event. Heavy equipment and distracted operation is a plan for disaster.

I have followed many a driver wondering why they were going so slow, and after they turn or I have an opportunity to pass I notice a cellphone to the ear. I always wonder, how much can there be to talk about. (off soap box now)

I just have to wonder whether one can attribute that to the cell phone. I watched a guy run a red light the other day. He almost T-boned not one but two other vehicles. He was not on a cell phone. I’ll bet this moron you’re describing drives like that no matter what.

My teenage, new driver, daughter, totaled her car less than 100 yards out of my driveway because she was trying to call a friend. I am lucky that she was not hurt but the irony is I am general counsel for a company working to bring technology to market that prevents a drivers ability to use a cell phone when driving over 10 mph.

At this point I can’t decide whether the FCC or my daughter is harder to understand. At the time of the accident the FCC had not even published for comment a petition for rulemaking I had filed months earlier that would allow one of our technologies to be marketed to the general public.

I always eat while highway driving and this has saved my life, over and over. I also listen to books on tape or CD or MP3 while driving. I find this to be ESSENTIAL for safe long distance driving. With eating and books, done carefully, with preparation, I can stay AWAKE.

I have driven cross country, many tens of thousands of miles, with no accidents, because I use food and stories to keep me awake, alert, attentive, and focused. Without them, I would have died or killed someone many years ago.

I eat small, non-messy food, with one hand, such as pop corn or nuts or chips, one piece at a time. I listen to stories, novels, on my car stereo, not too loud, and mostly on the highway. I turn it off when I need to enter, exit, or deal with traffic, or a decision. I do not need to look down to eat, or to operate my built in CD and Tape players.

When I need to find food, or change a CD, I pull over. Always.

If you feel that eating while driving is always bad, you are simply mistaken.

Not quite a close call… More like a connected one.

October of 2008:

 I borrowed a friends 2002 S10 pick up to move some stuff for my dad.  Leave work with the truck and get on the freeway, about halfway to his house my phone rings... Might I add that it was raining and I was driving just under the speed limit, trying to be careful in my buddies truck.  

 So I pick it up and look to see who it is and decide I'll call back at the light when I get off the freeway. I set the phone down and notice out of the side window that no one else is moving...  I had enough time to jam on the brakes to slow down to about 40mph before I plowed into the back of an Equinox.   

 Needless to say I now store my phone out of reach when driving.  Ooh.. And I'm now the proud owner of a 2002 S10.  It took me 7 months of hard work and over $2000 worth of parts to get her back on the road, with the purchase price added I came out just above blue book.

Last fall I attended what might as well have been a distracted driving demo. I got a temp job handing out consent forms at a drive-through flu shot clinic. Four of us stood at the entrance to the hospital parking lot and gave people a short form with simple yes/no questions: I am over 18 years old, I had a flu shot last year, I feel well today, etc. Drivers were supposed to stay in the two lines marked by traffic cones until they reached the nurses’ stations. But the moment they focused on the forms, every one of those people lost the ability to drive in a straight line. Drivers ran over the cones, they ran into each other (they were going so slowly no one was hurt), and they would have run over us if we hadn’t moved quickly. When they reached the nurses’s stations they handed in their forms, got their shots and were immediately competent drivers again. The difference in alert and distracted drivers was so striking everyone commented on it.

This happened about two years ago. While driving from Boston to Salem during rush hour on a Friday in very heavy traffic moving at about 70 miles/hour, I saw a car ahead of me weaving a bit in the right lane so moved to the left lane to pass him, looked over as I did so assuming he was on his cell phone, he was not; he was manipulating a RUBIK’S CUBE as he drove!!! I quickly got out of his potential crash radius, shook my head in disbelief, muttered a few choice words to myself and drove on.

exactly,a Human Being is no match for large forces(thats the problem I have with these not terribly well thought out action movies)-Kevin

I witnessed a lady in an SUV pulling across a local interstate median to make a U-turn in heavy morning rush hour traffic. Obviously she had missed her exit about 1/2 mile back. Instead of going to the next exit another 1/2 mile ahead, she elected to make an illegal and dangerous manuver. She pulled into the traffic about 1/4 mile ahead of me. (Yes my professional training has taught me to look at least 15 seconds ahead.) I immediately slowed down and signaled a right for the center lane. A car she was too close to hit her from behind as her merging skills were hampered by her being on her cell phone. Another car hit that one from behind. I don’t know who was ticketed or judged at fault, but it should have been the lady making the turn. She was still on the phone when I went by. I don’t thick she’d just picked it up to call 911 on herself.

When I recall the results of accidents I observed while working as a cop, if was enough to take stalk of my own driving behavior. After two years of doing traffic and accident investigations, I informed the chief that I now had a personal limit of 10 mph slower than his maximum for chasing speeders. He was fine with that. It just meant I could catch as many “low speed” speeders, but the low flying aircraft (motorcycles mostly) I left to the 2 way and the adjoining towns and state, and younger officers who were more “immortal” than I.
My overall work experience doing this and driving and towing heavy equipment and loaded dump and plow trucks has left me with a “speed by conditions freak” which finds me perhaps a little too fast on dry days, and Mother Theresa in rain and snow…slower than my wife and kids. Heck, in inclement weather, dogs that chase my car up the road have to slow down to catch me.