I was overcome by extreme grief reading about sentencing of a distracted driver who killed a 79-year-old last October. This was not the first time I experienced such an emotion. My mind travels back to November 1, 2007 every time I read about a traffic fatality caused by driver distraction. On that fateful day the victim was my own daughter, Shreya. She was riding in a car when the driver got distracted and crashed, killing Shreya just six weeks after her nineteenth birthday.
The above two deadly episodes demonstrate one thing for sure, distracted driving does not discriminate on age, be it 79 or 19. It is an equal opportunity killer.
It is true that in recent years, majority of states in the country have enacted laws targeting two major causes of road fatalities: texting and handling electronic devices while driving. But we need to broaden our focus and treat these two causes only as case studies for a much bigger and serious problem. That problem is Distracted Driving Behavior. I emphasize the word behavior that not only prompts the above two deadly tasks/activities but many more that are prevalent among drivers of all ages. Sadly, new behaviors keep cropping up on our roadways just like weeds on our lawns in spring. The only difference here is that distracted driving is not just confined to spring, it remains active throughout the year.
How do we handle that?
With my roots in India, and the Indian holiday season underway, I am prompted to take clue from the ancient Indian epic of Ramayana in which the brave warrior prince Ram battled to kill a multi-headed demon king Ravan, capable of regenerating his heads as soon as Ram took one of them out. Luckily Ram had a knowledgeable advisor who noticed that Ram was so focused on the multiple heads that he overlooked the energy source responsible for the regeneration. The adviser redirected Ram’s attention to that source, Ram listened and immediately targeting the source of the problem. The demon king came down crashing.
Analogously, distracted behavior in our minds is that energy source which creates multiple acts (heads) like texting and handling of electronic devices while driving. There are numerous others some already there, others emerging. It is common to find drivers eating, shaving, clipping nails, doing make up, having spirited exchanges with riders. I have seen many drivers doing more than one of these activities simultaneously. The list goes on.
I ask, what is more important for a driver than driving with eyes and mind on the road? We know Shreya was killed when the driver reached out for a napkin at the back.
Coming to the emerging bad behaviors, we have been reading instances of over dependence on car’s safety features, or driving (is it riding?) an autonomous car. Remember a recent Google car fatality in which the car took a wrong left turn? How about a Tesla that slid right under a big trailer in the front killing the driver? I call that over dependence.
Let me qualify my position here. I am a technology user and definitely not a technology basher. I do recognize that technology generates value for all. But, I absolutely cannot condone bad behaviors that a technology encourages, at times under the garb of enhanced productivity, resulting in unnecessary loss of life.
We must not blame the technology or the person who uses it. It is the behavior and the resulting act that kills, sometimes without any technology.