15 things that are safer to do while driving than talking on your phone

By Sean Rule, Math

The Broadside’s January 13th, 2010 issue had a humorous cover collage entitled “15 things that are more dangerous than talking on your phone while driving.”  I got a few chuckles as I glanced over these images of intentionally ridiculous things the “driver” was doing while “driving”, including, but not limited to knitting, drying hair, and working an adding machine.  Given time, additions to the list could be a blog in themselves, since there are infinitely many things you could do while driving that are more dangerous than talking on a phone…for example, talking on a phone and checking your email.

I know that the cover art was meant in jest, especially since there is a very nice, objectively written article on page 2 outlining the new ban on texting and cell phone use while driving (by the way, if you think you can text and drive at the same time and not endanger lives, you might want to take this little test and find out why you can’t.  Duh).  However funny the cover art is though, I’m still nervous…will people actually see the fact that the cover art is in jest?  How many of us simply read headlines and ignore the body of the articles?  I fear many people might just glance at the Broadside’s cover, chuckle (as I did) and say, “See?  There are far worse things to be doing while driving than chatting it up with my schnookums!”

That kind of “lesser of two evils” logic, however, is a fallacy.  The simple truth is, if your mind is working on one thing, it cannot do another well.  Ask any psychologist.  Follow Stanford’s study on the subject.  Then admit that talking on the phone or texting while driving is a bad idea. 

Of course, driving, by definition, is multitasking: you’re working the pedals, the wheel, and watching around you at all times.  So, maybe what we should be doing is limiting the amount of extra things that we should be doing while driving, and focusing on activities that only improve our driving.  With that in mind, I present my list of

15 things that are safer to do while driving than talking on your phone

1)      Just drive – it’s hard enough as is…but then add to it the dozens of people out there who are eating, getting dressed, in a hurry, and, yes, calling and texting.  I’d also recommend, as I did in my previous post, growing eyes out of the back of your head, and using them to check your blind spots.  This is related to the next idea,

2)      Drive defensively – there used to me (maybe still are) classes that you could take called “Defensive Driving Classes”.  These were neat.  They taught you great skills to use while driving, and, upon successful completion of the course, your insurance rates would be lowered by 10 or 15 percent.  Here’s the basic gist of defensive driving: the other drivers are gonna screw up; be prepared to react.  For example,

3)      When waiting to turn across traffic, keep your wheels pointed straight – that way, if you get rear – ended, you don’t get pushed into oncoming traffic.  Simple!  I’m embarrassed to say that, before the defensive driving class, I never thought about this. 

4)      Watch out for the 2 wheelers – I’m not talking just bikes here.  Motorcycles are seemingly invisible to cars, as well.  Check your blind spots before changing lanes!  Remember that you, as a car driver, are piloting a multi – thousand pound projectile, while two – wheelers are exposed and vulnerable.

5)      Check your mirrors constantly – you have (at least) 3.  Use them.  Often.  Also, scan your range of vision regularly to watch out for kids running across the road, or other objective hazards.

6)      Keep your hands at 10 and 2 – I think this used to be emphasized more than it is now.  Trust me…when that deer runs out of the bushes and across the road in front of you, you’ll want to have both of your hands on the wheel (and maybe your passengers’ hands on a rosary).

7)       Drive at a reasonable speed – The Bend Parkway is not the Jersey Turnpike, nor is it the Autobahn; don’t drive on it like it is.  45 mph is just fine, thank you.  If you feel the speed limit is too slow, collect some data, fit a Poisson model, and write your congress(wo)man. 

8)      Pass properly – if you find yourself needing to accelerate 15 miles per hour over the speed limit to get around someone, you’re probably driving too quickly.  However, if you need to pass, check your blind spot as you begin (and end) your pass, and signal both ways, as well.  Also, only pass on the left.   Related is

9)      Keep right except to pass – I believe this is the law in all instances, on all roads.  It’s also a really good idea, even if it isn’t law.  Just do it, like Nike.

10)  Use the n – second rule – this is also “follow at a reasonable distance”.  I was told (years ago) a quick way to see if you’re following too closely is this: wait until the car in front of you passes an object, like a pole.  Then, start counting “one Mississippi, two Mississippi”…if you pass the same object before the second “Mississippi”, you’re following too closely.  Related to that is

11)  Tailgating “braking” – if you’re being tailgated, don’t flip the other driver off, or instigate a confrontation.  Instead, lightly depress your brake pedal.  Your brakes won’t engage, but the brake light will come on, which should make the other driver back off a bit. Speaking of brakes,

12)  In sketchy situations, cover your brake – this means, if you see something going down, place your foot over your brake.  This cuts down the fraction of a second you would need to get your foot off of the gas to the brake.  Remember, traveling at 45 miles per hour means traveling 66 feet per second; any fraction helps in an emergency.

13)  Increase following distance in poor weather – this seems obvious, right?  Why do people not do it?

14)  Look both ways before starting to pull out into traffic – as a bike commuter, I’m amazed at how often I see this: a car leaving a neighborhood pulls up to a stop sign at the intersection of a busy road and the neighborhood.  The driver looks one way (often towards the far lane, the one they wish to join), then begins pulling out, while turning their head to look the other way.  This gives the driver no time to respond to a car (or me on my bike) actually in that oncoming lane, bearing down on them. Often, I’ve noticed, these people have a cell phone stuck in their ears, which makes me think that their car will not start unless their phone is connected.  Which brings me to

15)  Make your phone call before you get in the car! – People, I don’t care what your reasoning is on this one…there is NO reason to be chatting on the phone while driving.  None.  Please don’t try to justify it.  If you think you can, you’re wrong.         

None of us are perfect drivers, myself included, of course  – see picture above on this post to observe what happens when a 2005 biodiesel Jeep Liberty, piloted by yours truly, meets a patch of black ice).  However, I have yet to find a time when talking on a cell phone while driving is imperative.  There is no shortage of discussion arguing the justice of the new cell phone ban, but all fail to address the most obvious question:  “Why would you ever have to talk on a phone while driving?”  Simple question. 

Here’s the simple answer: You never have to talk on a phone while driving.  End of story.

5 Responses to 15 things that are safer to do while driving than talking on your phone

  1. cpc training says:

    I cant stress enough how important safer driving and driving development is…Goog article!

  2. teddybeaver says:

    Many drivers use hands free while driving their vehicles. They think that they will be safe by using the hands free. This is a good thing they can’t concentrate on driving while talking in phone. This may lead to accidents. So its better to avoid talking in phone while driving.

  3. Great advice – would be good if all drivers took note of your comments. Constant reminders of safe driving practice is so important.

  4. Carol Elwood says:

    Having recently updated my Defensive Driving training, I can update #6. It’s now recommended that (in vehicles equipped with air bags) your hands are placed at 3 o’clock and 6 o’clock. This gives you the same 2-handed stability on the wheel but leaves your arms out of harms way should the air bag deploy.

  5. Carol says:

    Item #16: watching for pedestrians! They’re vulnerable just like the 2-wheelers and they sometimes move more slowly.

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