"All We Have To Do Is Hang Up Or Switch Off": Oprah Takes On Texting While Driving


I am going to be honest and admit that until I read Oprah’s op-ed in the New York Times this morning, I did not realize that texting while driving had become such a thing. And a dangerous one, at that.

“At least 6,000 people were killed by distracted drivers in 2008, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the number is rising,” Winfrey writes in her piece, titled “Dnt Txt N Drv” (disemvowled for text-speak purposes, naturally.) She goes on to note that “life is more precious than taking a call or answering an e-mail message,” and that we all have a responsibility to put the safety of others above our own need to access technology at every waking moment.

It’s not a controversial piece, really: I doubt anyone out there will write in to the Times claiming that Oprah is trying to restrict their right to distract themselves by typing sexy texts to their girlfriend while driving in a school zone or some such, but I think it’s a piece that speaks more to our obsession with being connected at all times than it does to the specific issue of distracted driving. Oprah notes that “everyone is busy. Everyone feels she needs to use time in the car to get things done,” but that we need to perhaps consider that work can wait, if only for safety reasons. It would appear, then, that the increase in traffic problems caused by distracted drivers might be a symptom of society’s inability to ever really leave work, due to technological advances. We continue working in the car not only because we can, but because we’re expected to. The need to be connected trumps the need to be safe: common sense takes a backseat to compulsions.

Consequently, I don’t expect that Winfrey’s piece will do much to stop the rise in distracted driving; people may start out with good intentions, but the pull of technology and being unable to set boundaries in terms of when and where it’s appropriate to be connected might make it hard for people to break dangerous habits. As someone who can barely drive a car to begin with, I’ve never fallen into this trap (though I have done the one handed steer while eating an ice cream cone drive, which is just as treacherous—ask Dawson’s dad), but I can see how people easily fall into such patterns. Ultimately, however, I think the texting-while-driving phenomenon won’t die down until we learn, in general, how to set healthier boundaries when it comes to appropriate times to whip out our phones, which is an issue that goes far beyond just the car. Everything Oprah is saying is true, but for once, I’m not convinced that anyone will really listen.

Don’t Text And Drive [NYTimes]

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