Confession: I Have a Bad Habit that Could Kill Me or Get Me Arrested (& I’ll Bet You’ve Done it Too)

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I know it’s bad, but once you start, it’s a really hard habit to break.

 
I didn’t used to do it at all. I’m not really sure why I started. I was really good about it for a long time. And then, every once and awhile I would. I never do it when my kids are around; I want to set a good example and I don’t want to put them at risk. This week, I caught myself doing it late at night and had a reality check: this needs to stop before I hurt myself or someone else.

I don’t smoke. I drink occasionally … maybe a few drinks a month. I’m a vegetarian, I meditate and have a 6 day a week yoga practice. All in all, I take good care of myself, but if I don’t stop texting and driving, it could kill me—or someone else.

We all know it’s unsafe, but lots of us are still doing it, at least some of the time. According to the CDC, nine people die daily, and another 1,060 are injured in crashes involving distracted driving. Sixty-nine percent of American drivers report carrying on conversations while driving, and another 31 percent report reading or sending texts and emails while driving. Recently, I sheepishly admitted this habit to a friend, who immediately replied, “Me too!” We all know it’s risky, but lots of us are doing it anyway.

A first step to banishing this habit might be looking at why we do it.

1. Our society prizes being busy. Being overextended and perpetually busy is a status symbol. If you are busy, it means you are important.

2. While it’s vastly different from actual attention deficit disorder, we have cultivated a short attention span culture. We rarely do just one thing; multitasking is the norm.

3. We are connected 24/7—electronically—but our actual connection time with each other has diminished. More and more we are a touch free society; we need to feel some sense of intimacy and connection, so we overcompensate with the virtual kind.

Shifting our perspective and our habits in those three areas may be a good start being more present, while driving and in every part of life.

It has been two days since I texted while driving.

I was driving down a steep hill in the dark and heard my phone buzz and picked it up to look at it.

I started to reply, and then realized if I did, there was a good probability I would not be able to stay in my lane and not be able to respond quickly if a car came around the turn. It wasn’t an important message. No one’s life was going to be saved by me answering right then. The world was not going to be a better place, and I wasn’t going to be any happier or more fulfilled by texting back (or even reading the text) at that moment. And it could have killed me or someone else. It was a much needed reality check. We all have little habits we aren’t proud of that we know we should give up. If this is one of yours, please consider finding a way to stop.

Five things I’ve done to help kick the habit:

1. Turn off the ringer in the car.

We get to be a little Pavlovian with our phones. Every buzz or notification makes us leap to see what’s going on. It makes it tough to stay present and focused.

2. Take it one step further: put it in your bag or glove box.

If you are really hooked…stick it in the back seat. Get it out of reach while you are driving so you will be less tempted to peek at it “just once.”

3. Tune in to what you are doing with all five senses.

The best way to be fully present is to make it a full body experience. Roll down your windows so you can feel the wind on your face and listen to the noises outside. Notice how your body is feeling in the seat. Relax any tension in your body and focus your vision on the road ahead.

4. “Just this.”

Make this your mantra. We are so used to doing ten things at once. While working, I often have two computers open and my phone nearby. Fact: it doesn’t help me get more done any better or any faster. Let go of the glorification of busy and just do one thing well.

5. Accept that when you are driving a car, you are taking on a potentially life threatening task.

I remember my driving instructor saying this to me about wearing a seat belt while driving. Putting on your seat belt is an acknowledgment that you are engaging in a potentially dangerous task. The idea of texting while flying a plane is horrifying, because most of us don’t fly planes daily. Although driving a car is second nature and we often don’t give it a second thought, we are “piloting” heavy machinery with lethal capabilities; this deserves our respect and full attention.

Be well, be safe and don’t text and drive!

 

Photo credit: Flickr / Design by Zouny

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Comments

  1. I hate people that text while driving. They’re dangerous to themselves–and worse–to me and my family. The stats above translate to 3285 cellphone related auto “accident” deaths per year. The FBI stats show 300-400 rifle-related homicides nationwide per year. That means that one is ~9.5x MORE LIKELY to die in an auto “accident” involving a cellphone that from a rifle of any kind–inlcuding every assault rifle ever made. Where’s the outcry to ban “assault phones”? If policy was driven by stats and not emotion, the there *should* be 9.5x more emphasis on phones than rifles, right? And another factor, I can make choices about how exposed to firearms I am, limiting my exposure to derps texting-while-driving? That’s much harder as we all share the same roads. People, please, stop doing it.

    • Kate Bartolotta says:

      Amen to that. I used to be the first person to say how horrible it was to do…but it kind of crept in. I’m committed to kicking that habit completely.

  2. I think all cars should have locking gloveboxes so you can LOCK it in there while driving. If you absolutely need to take a call get a bluetooth radio and have it connected wirelessly through bluetooth (while it’s locked in the glovebox). Even then nothing says that you MUST take any calls while driving.

    • Kate Bartolotta says:

      I agree about the calls too. Even with a bluetooth, it’s still distracting. I used to think “what if it’s an emergency?” but really…what can I do about it while driving? If it’s a long drive and the phone keeps ringing, it takes 2 seconds to pull over and talk and see if it’s something important.

  3. Tom Brechlin says:

    If I’d text in the car, it may have been at a stop light but I very seldom do it. In fact, I avoid using my phone in the car. About a year ago my company made it a policy that we not text. Funny thing, within the first week after the policy was implemented, while I was driving a client to a court appearance, my boss text me. I responded back when I got to court. She was actually pissed off that I hadn’t responded.

    When I’m on the expressway and I see someone texting, I pull out my cell phone and pretend to take a picture of them. It’s funny to see how they respond.

  4. You’d lose that bet with me.

    On the bike path, I see people texting while riding. I have no idea how they even manage this, but Kevin and I joke that they’re all texting their mothers to say, “YES MOM IM WEARING MY HELMET”

    • Kate Bartolotta says:

      I’m glad! Yeah, as hard (and dangerous) as it was at stoplights or in traffic, I have no idea how someone would text on a bicycle!

  5. Red1714blue says:

    You lose the bet. And your focus is wrong; it’s not about avoiding arrest or personal injury, it’s about about placing the people around you at risk for your own selfish reasons.

    Your “nudge, nudge, wink, wink, everybody does it” attitude says it all. But please note that there are many people out there who wouldn’t dream of acting in such a lethally irresponsible manner.

    • Kate Bartolotta says:

      No, I wrote it that way to be a little melodramatic with the title. There are (thankfully) many people who would never do that. I was one of them, and then noticed myself occasionally checking my phone at stoplights, etc. It truly is lethally irresponsible, which is why I stopped doing it, and why I wanted to draw attention to it. Clearly, there are many many people doing it so we need to look at why and make stopping that habit a bigger priority.

  6. A clear case of the fact that what’s obvious to one person may not be obvious to someone else:

    Did you ever consider that you never really NEED to send a text message, ever, to anyone? If you don’t text or talk on a cell phone, will your world totally implode?

    If that’s too hard to imagine, I can recommend something a little more manageable — don’t even take your device with you at all. Leave it at home. Forget about whether it’s in the trunk or the glovebox. How about not in the car at all.

    If you can’t get by without your texting device with you at all times, then driving really isn’t the problem. You have a much larger problem that needs addressing.

  7. wellokaythen says:

    Those statistics about nine deaths a day probably just count drivers who are distracted by texting. Those numbers probably don’t count all the pedestrians texting as they walk out into traffic or people crossing the crosswalk with their cellphone hand blocking their view of oncoming trucks. Where I live, people on bikes are considered pedestrians (which means they can basically ignore traffic signals as they see fit) so the numbers wouldn’t count people texting while on bikes either.

    Some of those deaths must be a person texting running over another person texting. The upside is that you can call 911 really quickly….

  8. James Patrik says:

    Really cleverly written Kate – I loved the dramatic intro. Really drew me in.
    I choose to sing along to my tunes. It means that I can focus on driving,cant hear the phone, and the worst thing that can happen is that some other driver is exposed to my own guilty Britney Spears habit.

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