Keep Your Eyes on the Road

Last week we got together for dinner with my sister and we got to telling funny stories from our youth. She recounted one incident where a friend of hers was driving down College Avenue in Appleton.

There was a photography studio on the Avenue that had blown up posters in their window of high schoolers’ senior pictures. One of the photos happened to be of a guy my sister’s friend had a crush on. She was so enraptured by the picture that she accidentally rammed into the car in front of her. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Today, there are a million things that distract us while we drive. On my commute to work, I travel on both 441 and 41. More days than not, I will see a driver on one of these highways either talking on their phone, texting, eating, putting makeup on while looking in their vanity mirror, or some other dangerous activity.

That’s why many states have adopted laws making distracted driving illegal.

This topic is especially critical for younger drivers as we approach what is commonly known as the “100 deadliest,” that time between Memorial Day and Labor Day when crashes involving teenage drivers drastically increase. Department of Transportation records show that from 2012 to 2017, teenage drivers are the cause of roughly 13 distracted driving crashes every day statewide during the months of June, July and August.

It is against the law in Wisconsin for any driver with a probationary license or instruction permit to use a cell phone, except to report an emergency. Likewise, no driver may use a cell phone when driving through a road work zone, again except to report an emergency. Finally, texting while driving is against the law for all drivers in Wisconsin.

The Ohio state legislature recently convened to discuss a distracted driving bill. On that same day, the Ohio’s Controlling Board met virtually. One of the board’s members, State Senator Andrew Brenner, appeared at the meeting, with his home office in the background.

It soon became apparent, though, that Brenner’s office was a virtual background, as he was wearing a seatbelt. Ironically, as his colleagues in the legislature were considering adopting a measure that would prohibit driving while using an electronic communications device, Brenner was participating in a video conference while driving.

Although he admits he was driving during the meeting, Brenner told The Columbus Dispatch, “I wasn’t distracted. I was paying attention to the driving and listening to it. I had two meetings that were back-to-back that were in separate locations.” He continued, saying, “I’ve actually been on other calls, numerous calls, while driving. Phone calls for the most part but on video calls, I’m not paying attention to the video. To me, it’s like a phone call.”

He also claimed he was parked during the majority of the meeting but that when he was driving, “I was wearing a seat belt and paying attention to the road.”

The bill being discussed in the legislature would ban writing, sending or reading texts, viewing or taking photos, live streaming and using apps while driving. Those caught doing these activities, or even holding their phones while driving, would be ticketed. Current law makes texting while driving a secondary offense, which cannot be the sole cause for a traffic stop.

I miss the old days, where the biggest distraction while driving was trying to find the right 8-track tape in the glove box.

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