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Distracted Drivers

Over the last week I have been doing a research project; I have been traveling the roads of Metro Vancouver peering into the vehicles traveling alongside me. My purpose? Not to be creepy but to see what drivers are doing as they drive the by-ways and highways of our region. And my observations may in fact surprise you.

My first observation was that nearly every vehicle was being driven by someone talking on a mobile phone. Not every vehicle but nearly every one of them. The odd thing about this was that many of the vehicles had the driver of the vehicle talking on a mobile phone while the passenger stared ahead in bored silence. While on the freeway you could almost always tell the vehicle with the operator on the phone…they were the one traveling in the center lane at 10 or 20 km/h slower than the rest of traffic with a lineup of frustrated vehicles built up behind them.

More frightening than the passenger vehicles with the driver on the phone was the significant number of big rig and delivery trucks rolling along with the operator talking on a cell phone. Operators wheeling their trucks through the city while holding a cell phone up to their ear. Frightening.

However, talking on cell phones was not the only distraction drivers were faced with. There was the young lady traveling along the freeway at approximately 70km/h while texting on her phone. She was ignoring, or oblivious to the truck closing in on her rear bumper at some 30 or 40 km/h faster. Many drivers could be seen lovingly rolling and scrolling their thumbs over their Blackberry.

Another great technological distraction is the GPS. Drivers were seen staring at the unit trying to figure out where they were supposed to turn only to find out it is right now. The slam on the brakes, quick shoulder check and then swerve from one lane to the next maneuver was classic. Honestly, I only saw this once during this research project but it was the most exciting maneuver there was to see.

Then there was the guy driving down Hastings Street at 8:30am while shaving his face with an electric razor. Another time a guy was brushing his teeth while driving along Lougheed Highway in Burnaby. Not sure if he was going to swallow or spit. How about flossing? Yes, there was a guy flossing his teeth while traveling at speed through the city. Both hands crammed into his mouth, elbows piloting the car through traffic.

Traveling over the Patullo Bridge was a woman applying eye make-up. Patullo Bridge, the bridge infamous for being so narrow and therefore dangerous. She was applying eye make-up while traveling at far more than 60 km/h. Women applying make-up were everywhere, particularly in the morning hours. Seeing women applying lipstick was common.

People searching through glove boxes for who-knows-what. People fumbling with CDs they were removing from car stereos, inserting new CDs, placing CDs in cases and so on.

Drivers could be seen searching purses for cigarettes and lighters or matches. Then to see them try to light the cigarette. Only once did I see a driver drop a cigarette and they pulled off the road almost immediately.

Eating was another event I witnessed. I saw people eating sushi with chopsticks, slices of pizza, burgers, a burrito, fries, a plate of pasta and of course the omnipresent cup of coffee. The most extraordinary site was the guy driving a construction pick-up truck with a cell phone between his head and shoulder, a cigarette clenched in his teeth and in his hand that was not on the steering wheel, the biggest cup of coffee I have ever seen. While driving along a busy city street.

I saw couples sitting uncomfortably close together and other couples sitting far apart as they drove along screaming at each other.

On the final night of my research, driving along in a compact car was a young woman with the interior light on and a book balanced across the steering wheel for her to read as she moved her eyes up and down from the road to her book. This was on a four-lane road in our city.

It would appear that drivers talking or texting on cell phones is only one of our worries. Perhaps instead of saying drivers cannot do certain things we could say that they must do one thing…pay attention to their driving.

To hear more from Stacey, visit his blog.

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