Vehicular Vow

This is a sensitive post. I’m doing this publicly on purpose: to state my own intentions and invite others in. I have thought about this for 5 days and anticipate the personal and communal accountability as a permanent life change in this fast paced world.

I am ever a sucker for multi-tasking, for “Just one more thing”, and for thinking “Sure, I can do that too“. I live my life fitting lots into little, thinking while talking, and wanting to fill most any spare moments with markers and memories. When my kids ask for an adventure, I don’t question their quest. When I’m too tired and impatient to honor what I consider an indulgence, I know I’m partly to blame for their insatiable thirst for more, all the time, at once.

During Lent, I apply limits that create space. One consistent discipline over the past 5  Lenten observances, has been for me to turn off the radio in my car. This is helpful in giving me space to be present to pray, hear, and be. What I haven’t turned off over the past 5 years of Lent is talking on my phone. Seems too unproductive to NOT talk to my mom while driving 30 minutes away to meet my college friends.With the advent of technology, the connectivity of our lives is blessedly easy. I used to count the minutes carefully and save them studiously until 9pm, or for the weekends, when Drew and I were dating long distance, and I was keeping in touch with my family in Colorado. Now, minutes are as plentiful as Minnesota mosquitoes and our cell phones are as necessary to daily function as toilet paper (yes, I did in fact make this analogy to Drew in the last month).

I’m far from the first to propose that the cost of connectivity is almost as expensive as the blessings are generous. Often my phone interrupts me in the moment, creates a distraction where I should be focused, and invites me to disengage mentally or relationally when I could be, and probably should be, checked in instead of out. Luckily for me, my phone has not cost me anything so dear as life, limb or Lexus (read “Honda Odyssey” for an increase in factuality but a decrease in alliteration), but the dangers of texting and driving, or even talking and driving, have been creeping into my consciousness for the last few months. First, my sister had a “no texting” sticker on the front of her phone that got me thinking- she had taken a pledge at a community event geared for teens. For the last couple of years, Drew and I have suggested to each other to “cut it out” and not text and drive (“Especially not on the highway at high speeds”, or  “I just do it only at a stoplight”). We try to call each other out on it when we get caught- in a most edifying and encouraging manner of course.

Newspaper stories of devastating life losses because of distracted driving always draw me in and remind me of the severity of our constantly connected indulgences. People who crash their cars while texting aren’t malicious or even negligent, they are just like me, except I’ve been lucky that my moments of distraction have been on more empty roads at different times of the day.

Even without a phone, I can be a distracted, productive, efficient driver. Driving across Kansas as a college student in a 1987 Nissan Sentra with no AC or cruise control, and a bungee cord holding the 5th gear in place, I would sometimes read a novel while I drove. I have changed out of sweaty clothes and applied make-up while driving. I often file my finger nails, and almost always pass back snacks, drinks, books, kleenex, and gum to kids in the back seats. I can rub a baby head, put in a binky, and serve dinner while driving. If I really think about it, I do these things out of neccessity (must control the snot!, quiet the crying!), but mostly out of boredom, arrogance (“Because I can…“), entitlement (“It’s my phone… I should be productive/entertained/connected), and convenience. Texting while driving often seems necessary (“I’m on my way”) and productive (especially if its just at a light and because I’m thinking of something right now that I’ll probably forget by the time I get there). However, I am becoming more and more convinced, it’s simply unnecessary.

Drew sent me a link to a documentary that I chose to watch the day my kids when to school this year (adding pain and sadness to an already emotional day). This video tells 5 grim and gripping stories of families and individuals impacted by texting and driving accidents. Two of the drivers who killed people with their cars because they were writing or reading texts while driving, appear in the video and speak of profound regret, absolute agony, over their unintentional but absolutely life-altering, split-second decision. With heavy hearts, piercing pain, and some unresolved anger, families of victims appear in the video pleading for people to make a change in their habits.

The video did it for me. I vowed, on that ordinary August Wednesday morning, that my texting and driving days were over. I want to stop. I told Drew and a few others. Just last week, I was tempted to slide, to send just a quick and simple, but seemingly important, text while driving. I thought at that point I’d open myself up to others- I’d make my vow, my promise to discipline myself and change my habits, public, inviting others in to check up on me and giving myself the accountability that: I wrote it, so it should be so.

After I had decided to write this post last Tuesday, driving around on Wednesday, I heard an NPR piece on the dangers of distracted driving. The program was helpful in reminding me we delude ourselves into thinking we can do multiple things at once– in reality, our brains cannot effectively multitask. This is especially true of driving which already involves doing multiple things at once- ie: checking a blind spot, reading signs, moving mirrors- all tasks which directly relate to the task of driving, but all which remove our eyes from the road. The statistics were staggering: deaths because of car crashes is the number 1 killer of Americans, and 90% of crashes are caused by distracted drivers.Yes, people do a lot of distracting things while driving: tend to kids, paint their nails, change the station, talk to a passenger, navigate with a GPS, but the overwhelmingly prolific distraction worth measuring and addressing, is drivers on their phones. It’s over 10% of all drivers today and up to 70% in some studies.

Because of the high number of texting drivers, states and cities have moved to pass laws to prohibit texting and driving. Currently, the law in Missouri states drivers under the age of 21 are prohibited from texting and driving. Kansas outlaws texting and driving for all drivers. Some say the laws are not the most persuasive and productive prohibitions. One NPR contributor said the most effective deterrent and most inspiring behavior changing impetus is to “shame each other into behavior changes with dirty looks to drivers on their phones etc…” “Shaming while driving” is only effective if the person to be shamed takes their eyes off their phone to receive the anti-texting stink eye of the driver in their periphery!

Perhaps if there is a law against it, we feel more motivated to hold each other accountable. Alas- I’m just writing to assert my desire to stop this habit in my own life.

I will not text and drive.

I will limit talking on my phone and driving.

I will make an effort to be focused, defensive, aware, and considerate in my driving.

I make this vehicular vow because I believe texting and driving-

  • is not worth it
  • can wait
  • makes me an unsafe driver
  • puts my kids in the back seats at unnecessary risk
  • takes my attention away from the “right here, right now focus” driving deserves
  • first day of school
    Precious cargo: Andi

    Precious cargo: Andi

    IMG_1354 - Copyis not my right, privilege or productive outlet.

    my new car seat!

    Precious cargo: Eli

To physically remove my phone from reach is the most effective way to self-enforce my desired behavior. I do a good enough time of leaving my phone out of sight and sound while I’m a home, I surely can remove it’s tempting presence in the car.

The vow is lofty, intimidating, and feels limiting at times. I’ll probably mess up and cheat. I stand to lose some convenience and connection but cannot imagine the consequences of a distracted driving crash. The benefits of being safe, focused, and alive far outweigh any cons. Want to join me?!




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