Hang Up and Drive – And Get Off My Lawn

Tom Murphy, Managing Editor

June 4, 2015

4 Min Read
Hang Up and Drive – And Get Off My Lawn

We have become a nation of awful drivers.

The statement is based not on witnessing the occasional indiscretion behind the wheel, but instead a pattern of carelessness, distractibility and recklessness.

An alarming number of drivers just aren’t paying attention and would rather bury their noses in their smartphones than devote the necessary concentration to safely pilot 2 tons of metal down the motorway, through the neighborhood or around town.

How do I know people are looking at smartphones while half-heartedly attempting to drive?

Because when I see a vehicle drifting into my lane, or someone else’s lane, or over a curb on a busy street, or if an aimless vehicle corrects abruptly at the last second to avoid a fire hydrant, I glance at the driver and see that he or she is looking at a device instead of the road – and continues to do so even after a near miss.

My latest pet peeve has become a daily occurrence: Sitting in queue at a stoplight, I watch the light turn green and then wait for the vehicle at the front of the line to proceed. Invariably, the lead driver has no idea the light has changed because the information on the smartphone is a whole lot more interesting.

In these situations, I don’t want to be too quick to lean on the horn for two reasons: If I honk at the precise moment the driver steps on the gas, then I look like an idiot.

Second, it’s entirely possible some other imbecile crossing through the intersection is texting his girlfriend and failing to recognize his traffic light ahead now is red. Although annoying, that delay may save my life someday. Did I mention I also see people drive through red lights without even tapping the brakes?

For this reason, I count to four before alerting the vehicle at the head of the line to get a move on.

This insatiable appetite to interact with our devices is turning us into inconsiderate drivers, too. Countless times I have seen people change lanes, no matter the proximity to another vehicle already in that lane, without signaling.

If I can get a look at that driver, it’s often a person who is texting or talking into their handset. You need at least three hands to steer, cradle the Starbucks, hold a phone and activate a blinker. Most of us only have two.

If you spent hard-earned money for turn signals on your car, why not use them?

I wrote a song 14 years ago called “Hang Up and Drive,” and bandmates said this bit of social commentary would be meaningless in a few years.

I wish that were true. Instead, the problem has spun out of control as people either are too lazy to sync their phones with a car via Bluetooth or refuse to pay for the technology. Or, they just can’t stand to put down their devices.

Road Rage Turns Lethal

There are inconsiderate drivers, and then there are truly dangerous ones.

A Livingston County, MI, jury recently convicted 69-year-old Martin Zale of second-degree murder for shooting a man who confronted him for aggressive driving near Howell, northwest of Detroit.

Derek Flemming, 43, a father of two, was at Zale’s driver-side window when he was shot with a 9 mm Ruger. Zale claimed self-defense.

Road rage is an ugly thing that can turn lethal, which explains my sense of alarm when I was leaving my office a few weeks ago in Southfield, waiting first in line at a stoplight right outside our parking deck.

I was fully attentive, and I stepped on the gas when the light turned green. As I moved through the intersection, I noticed in my rear-view mirror that the driver behind me seemed highly impatient and was tailgating.

With both hands, he was motioning me forward, as if I were going too slowly. He couldn’t pass because the car next to me was going the same speed.

That stretch of Central Park Blvd. is a notorious speed trap, but I was going slightly above the limit. Not fast enough, apparently. I was relieved when he turned off and sped through a parking lot.

It’s because of encounters like these, as well as the distraction epidemic, that I teach my kids about defensive and responsible driving. I’m proud to say they’re both good drivers.

I used to think autonomous cars were silly science experiments and potentially dangerous. I’m reconsidering. Our roads likely will become safer because people will be able to text to their heart’s content, same as they do today. But they won’t have to drive.

The older I get, the more my wife says I sound like a grouchy, old Clint Eastwood.

Well, I’m proud to say it: Stop Texting, and Get Off My Lawn!

I doubt I’m the only person with tales of woe from behind the wheel. Care to share your stories?

[email protected]

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About the Author(s)

Tom Murphy

Managing Editor, Informa/WardsAuto

Tom Murphy test drives cars throughout the year and focuses on powertrain and interior technology. He leads selection of the Wards 10 Best Engines, Wards 10 Best Interiors and Wards 10 Best UX competitions. Tom grills year-round, never leaves home without a guitar pick and aspires to own a Jaguar E-Type someday.

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