Distracted Driving in the Age of COVID-19

The year 2020 dawned with a severe hit by the ever-powerful tsunami of COVID-19. Now, no day goes by without a deluge of scary reports in daily newspapers, TV and radio describing in graphic details, the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, it was not surprising that I found myself struggling as I sat down to write my column for April. I was experiencing a discouragingly huge mental block. What really bothered me was that I was having difficulty in April, the National Distracted Driving Awareness month. But I kept my calm, remained steadfast and was determined to not get hijacked by the thought of a virus. Armed with that resolute attitude I paid attention to an inner voice. It loudly reminded me how I and my family successfully fought the trauma after a distracted driver’s action killed our dear daughter Shreya. If we were able to pull out of that horrific situation, this current phase must not deter me from moving ahead with the important task of writing this column. I immediately began to see something through the virus that minutes ago was not visible. There was a learning there in this this pandemic.

I was ready.

Suddenly my frozen fingers warmed up and started to navigate the keyboard. The very first thing that I typed was the word virus. I sought to find a definition of the word in plain English and was totally satisfied when I found the following:

Viruses are infection agents that are too small to be seen with a light microscope. Viruses have the ability to reproduce, multiply and mutate. They can kill if not contained.

I started to dig deeper into that definition. Come to think of it, one could easily argue that distracted driving behaviors and viruses operate in similar fashions. Both are invisible and are deadly if left unchecked.

Let me elaborate. A distracted driver looks like any other ordinary driver but harbors latent unhealthy behaviors that go into action if not controlled. While driving this hidden behavior manifests as irresponsible actions that have the potential to harm the driver as well as those in the vicinity. These actions multiply and mutate as more types of distractions keep piling up leading to a mental overload. It reaches a stage when the driver is no longer driving, is daydreaming, thinking about anything but driving. Everything that the driver does at that time is driven by the distraction virus. This compromised behavior results in injuries and fatalities. The end result of COVID-19 virus if not contained is also the same. Both require a mitigation strategy.

What should we do?

Just as there are vaccines to protect against the onslaught of health viruses, the distraction virus also has its vaccines in the form of educating the community at the grass roots. We need to offer factual data and knowledge about the root causes with implications. Fight against this virus is a collective responsibility of all citizenry. We all have to make sure that we watch for distractions around us and stop them on the tracks. The responsibility is not confined to just the drivers. If you are a passenger, intervene if you see the driver getting distracted. Also, the distraction virus no longer resides in cars. We frequently see distracted pedestrians on busy roads engaged in phone conversations, bicyclists do the same. In these instances, we have a better chance to correct them by talking to them.

There is no magic bullet here for the cure. We need to make sure that one must not drop his/her guard off. Just like every year new vaccines are developed to counter new mutations of various viruses; it is important for drivers to be aware of new communication technologies installed in new models of automobiles. Many new technologies may compromise safety and drivers may have to learn new ways to ensure total safety. Check them out thoroughly before deploying them.

In this National Distracted Driving Awareness month, let us all resolve to drive distraction-free. Be safe and healthy.