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Freeway Phone Freaks




Multitasking arises out of distraction itself. — Marilyn vos Savant

I tried my best to tune her out, though I knew my efforts were futile — my sister’s voice screeches skyward every time she’s on a business call. Jane mistook my sideways glare for interest. She muted her phone and shrieked, “I got another one right!”

I looked at her laptop, then back at her smug smile. “Are you taking that distracted driving test while talking on the phone?”

Jane laughed and said, “I’m a multitasker.” She held up her hand to indicate that she was unmuting herself, a tacit request for me to be quiet. I rolled my eyes and went back to ignoring her. When she’d finished her phone call, Jane closed her laptop and yelled, “BAM!” Her startling shock wave sent my hair tumbling from its bun.

“I got this one right, too: ‘Which of the following actions makes you nine times more likely to get in a collision?’” I waited for it. “Reaching for things!” Jane beamed.

“They should be testing you on what you actually do,” I sneered, “not what you know you shouldn’t be doing but do anyway. You reach for things all the time, especially when your girls are in the car — talk about distracting. Minivans should come equipped with some sort of cone of silence that children can be strapped into so they won’t distract their parents while they’re operating the giant death machine.”

“Excuse me, but when was the last time I had a cyclist on my hood?” This had been Jane’s snappy comeback to all of my driving digs ever since my run-in with that stupid chick whose inattention caused her to kiss the hood of my Mini.

“Look, I know I’m a terrible passenger — control freaks make the worst backseat drivers. But if I harass you enough, maybe you’ll pull over the next time you want to check your makeup.” I felt a moment of guilt at my hypocrisy — it’s not like I’d never reapplied my lipstick while behind the wheel. I don’t need to look in the mirror when I’m doing it, but still, it’s a hand off the wheel, even if just for a moment. Then again, people who drive stick have to take one hand off the wheel all the time, so maybe I wasn’t that bad after all. At least that’s what I told myself. Regardless of any of my own occasional transgressions, nothing is more distracting to my driving than my own displays of disapproval directed at other distracted drivers.

Just this week I almost missed my exit off the 15 because I was busy giving the “What? Are you nuts?!” wild eyes to two guys in a white truck after I witnessed the driver taking a big hit from a bong. Almost as irritating as their lack of common sense was that the guys in the truck were a rolling cliché: both had long hair, weren’t wearing shirts, and two surfboards poked out from the back of the truck.

The same day, while driving down Kettner toward Little Italy, I noticed that the SUV in front of me was slow to accelerate after every stop. At one point, the vehicle veered close to the car in the next lane. I zoomed beside the SUV and saw that the woman behind the wheel was texting. At the next stop sign, I banged on my horn until she looked up from her phone. Because our windows were closed, I stretched my face with each syllable so she could read my lips when I said, “STOP TEXTING.” Just to be on the safe side, I pretended to have a phone in my hands, mimed her transgression, and violently shook my head NO! Then I returned my eyes to the road and continued on my way.

“Did you know that drivers on the phone are four times more likely to get into an accident, even with a hands-free device?” I said to Jane. She should never have told me she was taking a distracted driving test — now she’d have to suffer Google’s wrath.

“‘There are three main types of distraction,’” I read from the screen. “‘Visual, manual, and cognitive’ — so, basically, your eyes, your hands, and your mind. How often do Mom and Heather call you to pass the time while driving? People shouldn’t be bored while they’re encased in 5000 pounds of steel and barreling down the freeway at 100 feet per second. It’s remarkable, when you think about it — there was a time people weren’t sure humans could survive travel at 50 miles per hour, but now most people find driving on the freeway so mundane that they seek additional entertainment.”

“Were you on the phone when that cyclist landed on your hood, Jacko?” Jane asked me.

“No, and come on, that’s getting old — you know that wasn’t my fault,” I said.

“Still, hasn’t happened to me.”

“YET.” I looked back at the screen. “‘Using a cell phone while driving — even hands-free — delays a driver’s reaction as much as having a blood-alcohol concentration at the legal limit’ — should say ‘barely legal’ — of .08 percent.’”

David, having overheard our conversation, popped his head into my office. “You remember that episode of Myth Busters? The one where Adam and Kari took road-safety tests while talking on a cell phone and also while drunk? It turned out that talking on the phone was even worse than driving drunk.”

“Well, I’m not going to stop talking on the phone while I’m in the car,” Jane said.

“Yeah, me neither,” I said. “But it makes you think, doesn’t it? Did you watch that documentary I sent you about texting? The one called It Can Wait?”

“I don’t have time,” Jane said. “That’s why I multitask.”

“Well, after you watch that, you’ll make time. Nothing is so important that it has to be taken care of while you’re driving. Hopefully they’ll invent those automated cars soon, like the ones in Minority Report that drive themselves. Then we can pay attention to the important things while getting from A to B — like fixing our makeup and tweeting.

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