EDITORIAL: Just drive — everything else can wait

An editorial by Vidette editor Corey Morris.


By Corey Morris

At some point, someone just has to say it — put down your phone and pay attention while driving before you kill someone.

Most of us are not fighter jet pilots, race car drivers, or super-human driving machines. We cannot safely multi-task behind the wheel of a vehicle.

The average vehicle weighs in at about 2 tons. That’s 4,000 pounds. Now remember that’s the average and Grays Harbor County has a wide range of vehicles — from Smart cars (about 1,800 pounds) to some of the biggest, obnoxious, most ostentatious trucks I’ve encountered (your guess is as good as mine as to the weight, but about 9,000 pounds is probably a reasonable guess).

Each day, we commute, we get groceries, maybe we give it a wash and take it for a drive just for the sake of driving. In East County, we get it up to 60 mph (at least) in places. The average 2-ton passenger car drives in a stream of other vehicles that includes those massive trucks and tiny cars. Some are going 70 mph and jockeying for position while some are keeping steady at the speed limit.

So that’s the scene we deal with. Big trucks and little cars moving quickly along pavement, directed and controlled by the human brain.

Now the numbers.

An alert driver’s brain can recognize a hazard in about three-quarters of a second, according to a 2003 report published by Southern Illinois University. That’s pretty quick, but not quick enough in many cases.

At 55 mph, a vehicle travels 60 feet in that three-quarters of a second.

When the driver hits the brakes at 55 mph, it takes a vehicle about 4 and a half seconds to stop on dry pavement, with another 182 feet traveled while the vehicle is braking. Worn out brakes or a vehicle that’s too heavy for its braking system will add to that time and distance.

In total, according to the Southern Illinois University report, it will take a vehicle about 6 seconds to stop when going 55 mph. The vehicle will travel some 300 feet before stopping (a football field is 300 feet long).

We’re so used to driving, we take it for granted. We have conversations, we drink coffee, we adjust the radio, we eat, we look in the mirror for vanity’s sake. Some of us, despite laws already in place, even take a hand off the wheel to talk on the phone or text. These are all distractions. They take attention away from the road and reduce the reaction time the brain needs to recognize a hazard.

According to the state Department of Licensing, a driver talking on a cell phone is as impaired as a driver with a .08 blood-alcohol level. A driver that’s texting is as impaired as a driver with a .16 blood-alcohol level (double the legal limit).

Numbers vary on how many people are killed by distracted driving.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 3,500 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers throughout the U.S. in 2015.

The state Department of Licensing reports a bleaker (yet older) number. In 2008, according to the state Department of Licensing, 6,000 people were killed in distracted driver accidents in 2008, and another 500,000 were injured.

Though texting while driving and holding a cell phone up to your ear while talking are both already illegal, it’s common to see other drivers doing either.

State lawmakers recognized the need to drive safely, and they’ve amped up state law to deter drivers from indulging in distractions.

On Sunday, a new law went into effect banning taking pictures while driving, texting, reading, and any other activity that uses hands on an electronic device. Those devices can’t be used at stop signs or stop lights either.

Fines of $136 to $235 would be imposed depending on the offense.

A secondary offense and a $30 fine can be imposed on other distractions, like eating or smoking or checking hair in the mirror while driving.

I’ve heard people accuse the state (many states, really) of being a “nanny state.” That the state oversteps its bounds by interfering in the everyday lives of citizens. Maybe, but drivers are not self-governing. Despite statistics, we all seem to drive as if we’re somehow beyond the limits of the human brain, that we can somehow defy the physics of deceleration. Baloney — none of us drive any safer than any other distracted driver.

Maybe with more bite to the law, drivers will give a third or fourth thought to what they’re doing while driving and opt to instead keep their eyes on the road.

Bottom line, we’re not taking driving seriously enough. And we should be. Lives are at risk.

Corey Morris is the editor of The Vidette. He can be reached by emailing editor@thevidette.com.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This editorial was changed to correct the length of a football field.