Saturday, July 24, 2010

Distracted Driving

We are all busy with many things we either want or need to do.  Multitasking has become a way of life for many of us as a way to squeeze 26+ hours worth of activities into a mere 24 hour day.  Not all of our obligations in life are good candidates for multitasking.  Imagine chatting on a cell phone in the midst of a funeral service… nope, not acceptable.  But there are plenty of other opportunities that are both socially acceptable and legal, like driving, right?

The daily commute is a routine that uses up so much time in an activity that many consider to be so mind numbingly boring that it can be a perfect opportunity multitask.  Having some breakfast on the way to work saves real time.  Checking the paper for last night’s sport results can make the drive a lot less monotonous.  Modern smart phones let us check our email, watch a movie, send messages, and of course chat on the phone.  Sometimes the drive is so undemanding that it can be a chance to paint fingernails.

The truth is that all of those activities take attention away from the road, perhaps for only a moment at a time, but that can be enough for something catastrophic to happen.  For example, last year Lora Hunt was driving in a northern suburb of Chicago while painting her fingernails.  She approached an intersection at speed, failing to notice that a motorcyclist, Anita Zaffke, was stopped there.  The resulting accident claimed the life of Anita Zaffke and sparked a debate in Illinois about whether to treat distracted driving as a criminal offense, like driving intoxicated, or continue to issue a ticket and a small fine, even if the result is a death.

The debate is likely to continue, but the legal precedent has been set.  Lora Hunt was found guilty of reckless homicide in May and sentenced to 18 months in the Lake County jail this past week.  Circuit Judge Fred Foreman said before passing sentence, “In our society, distracted driving is becoming an epidemic.  People don't appreciate how dangerous that vehicle is or what they could do to other people.”

If the thought of causing an accident and taking a life isn’t enough for you to stop multitasking while driving, perhaps the idea of a reckless homicide conviction and jail time will be.

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