It was an era when most traffic fatalities were blamed on excessive speed, alcohol consumption, use of other mind-altering substances or a deadly combination of the three.
Now, law enforcement professionals are warning of a new menace that is haunting America’s roadways — interstates, highways and anything in between. The same transportation woe is afflicting local travelers as well on county routes, city streets and municipal bypasses.
We refer to “distracted driving.”
Most automatically will point a long, accusatory finger to the use of cellphones by motorists while in motion. It is not an issue for debate because the problem is real.
In today’s fast-paced society that demands spontaneous communication and unobstructed travel, including our own Cleveland and Bradley County community, the majority of motorists will admit to using a cellphone for talking or texting while behind the steering wheel and while in motion. The percentage who admit to being “distracted” by these acts will depend on the number who are willing to make an honest assessment of their actions.
We have said before, and we will continue to warn of its dangers, that cellphone use by a driver — whether for talking or texting — is an accident waiting to happen.
Yet, other distractions also are contributing factors to roadway crashes. Here, the volume of abusers rises even further.
Consider these questionable habits by drivers, a few of which were mentioned in a recent interview with Capt. W.G. Campbell of the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office:
1. The early morning coffee drinker whose multi-tasking hands are juggling duties like holding the full cup, turning the steering wheel, tapping the blinker on and off (many motorists have abandoned this practice), sometimes applying the windshield wiper, adjusting the heat and air and defrost, and wiping the spilled drops of beverage from his necktie or her skirt.
2. The fidgety driver who scans from radio station to another and yet another trying to find the news, the weather or a good song, or the counterpart who chooses to change the CD in the middle of rush-hour traffic while ignoring the road by peering into the console to find a better musician.
3. The overburdened businesswoman on an unforgiving schedule who is applying mascara and lipstick in the rearview mirror while tending to her disheveled hair at traffic signals.
4. The wayward salesman whose focus is buried in the squiggly black and red lines of a folded road map while occasionally glancing ahead watching for overhead road signs and not for bright red brake lights.
5. The tardy, over-the-road diner who is fumbling with a fastfood bag with one hand, balancing a beverage cup and straw with the other, and stabilizing the bottom of the steering wheel with two knees.
Truly, the above scenarios sound comical. They might even be funny if not for this sad fact: Lives are at risk. People can die. The misguided actions of one motorist can be lethal to those sharing the same road.
Nothing we have written here is new. Assuredly, it is not the first time our readers have been warned.
Certainly, eyes will roll. Sighs will serve as dismissive attitude. Mindsets will register on denial.
But the numbers tell the tale. In 2012, Bradley County roads took 23 lives. It is the highest number in 11 years when 23 also died in 2002. Even more alarmingly, eight fatalities last year came inside the Cleveland city limits — a jurisdiction where speed should not be a factor due to bumper-to-bumper congestion, synchronized traffic signals and frequency of side road access points.
When speed is not to blame nor alcohol nor any affliction that dims the senses, then driver distraction is of grave concern.
Cellphones are the key abuse, and coffee, food, radio and their kin fall right in line.
As society races to meet its next deadline, we believe the day is coming when drivers — by enforced law — will be limited to one function and one function alone: Drive.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
And violators will pay a maximum price.