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View from the Green

Distracted Driving


By Lindsey Pizzica Rotolo

We’re all guilty of it. You’re in the car, bored as hell on your fourth trip to Torrington in three days, and your phone pings, or chirps, or whistles at you, and you simply must know what information is coming in . . . immediately.

So you check your phone, and risk fatal injury to yourself and anyone else on the road with you. Why do we take this risk?

We love the hit of dopamine we get from a text, tweet or email, but dopamine releases also causes seeking behavior, according to an article in Psychology Today. “Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out and search,” so many of us are living in an eternal dopamine induced loop of searching and wanting more “interactions”. While this is harmful to all our relationships, affects intimacy and makes completing any job next to impossible, the behavior continues.

Thankfully, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is working hard to break the cycle for us. The national anti-texting campaign, “U text, U drive, U pay” started April 1 with a series of alarming commercials showing horrible car accidents with a distracted driver at the wheel, and a ramped-up police presence looking for one thing—distracted drivers.

Unfortunately, the statistics aren’t there on distracted driving accidents, as drivers are unlikely to admit they were checking their phone at the moment of impact. The only hard stats come in when there’s a fatal injury and the phone is seized as part of the investigation, or if there’s an eye witness, but nobody is arguing that the number of distracted drivers isn’t a growing issue.

The state of Connecticut has received $2.1 million a year for the past three years for the specific purpose of cracking down on distracted driving. The money is mostly spent on overtime for police officers, so they can focus solely on handing out tickets to distracted drivers at the cost of $150 for the first infraction, $300 for the second and upwards of $500 for subsequent infractions. The money also goes to ad campaigns.

Is that money well spent? While we may not see the targeted law enforcement in this quiet neck of the woods, other areas in the state see dramatic reductions in the number of people pulled over for distracted driving after an increased police presence. Aaron Swanson, the Distracted Driving program manager at DOT says, “High police visibility works. It’s a proven model,” and cites a nine percent decrease in distracted driving violations where targeted enforcement takes place.

As for advertising being worth it, those commercials are intense. And all age groups are targeted. If I even glance in the direction of my phone when my 8-year-old daughter is in the car, she says, “Texting isn’t driving, Mommy.” I had no idea where she got that line from, but Swanson chuckled when I shared that with him. “That’s our PBS Kids ad campaign—glad it’s resonating.”

There really is hope for the next generation. Swanson compares distracted driving to the seatbelt initiative. “Twenty years ago, the battle was over seatbelts. Now everyone buckles up without a thought. We’ll have the same success with distracted driving.”

Or, autonomous cars will take care of the driving while we text, tweet and email our way into social oblivion. In the meantime, let’s all make a renewed effort to turn off our phones when we’re behind the wheel.







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