I was out walking the dogs Saturday night when it happened. We were waiting at a busy intersection (the end of the westbound Beltline exit ramp at Midvale Boulevard for those of you who know Madison.) A car slowed to a stop for the red. The crossing light was on so the dogs and I entered the crosswalk directly in front of the car, only to have it lurch forward. One of the dogs yelped and my hands were briefly on the hood. The window was down and as I paused to exchange pleasantries with the startled 20-something driver it was immediately obvious that he’d been looking at something (something very important, I’m sure) on his passenger’s cell phone.
Fast forward to Monday morning and this time I’m behind the wheel in traffic on Fish Hatchery Road and my phone buzzes to signal an incoming text message. Nothing important – my daughter at UW Milwaukee texting me that mom was heading back to Madison after a visit – but of course my attention was diverted for the time it took me to read it. I was clearly not modeling good driving behavior, which is what Dave Pabst really wishes all of us experienced adult drivers would do.
Pabst is the Director of the Wisconsin DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Safety, which is trying to get the attention of teenage drivers this week. The gist of the message being conveyed during Teen Driver Safety Week in Wisconsin might be boiled down to this: teen drivers need to realize that their lack of experience puts them at a higher risk for crashes, so they need to wear safety belts, obey speed lints and rules of the road, and above all pay attention. It’s tough to be inexperienced “if you combine speeding and aggressive driving and failure to wear a seat belt, and then add on to that the distractions that modern drivers have,” says Pabst.
It’s true. When I took the wheel of my first car (a 1964 Mercury Comet with a 3 speed column shift. It could top out at about 70 if we had a tail wind), distractions were pretty much restricted to the tuner dial on the AM radio. Cell phones are the number one distraction now and experienced adult drivers are no more immune to misusing them then are text-happy teens. “It’s really kind of alarming that we’re not setting a better example for these teen drivers,” says Pabst. I should probably just turn my phone off when I’m driving because there’s nothing so urgent that it can’t be dealt with later.