For the week of Aug. 8, 2016

The world is my oyster

By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau

Self-absorbed. It’s all about me. I am the center of the universe.

All of these words come to mind when today’s endless stream of motorists talk, tweet and Facebook while speeding down the boulevard. This recent phenomenon has become epidemic and it’s spreading.

Harsh words?

Certainly, but there are also harsh consequences in lives lost, maimed and injured permanently in traffic accidents caused by those who place their own need to continually talk or text on the phone before focusing on the task at hand – driving safely and consciously.

In 2014, 3,179 people were killed and an estimated 431,000 more were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association. Ten percent of all drivers 15-19 years of age involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes.

At any given moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers use cell phones or manipulate electronic devices while driving. Those who aren’t calling or texting are distracted while driving by something else in one or both of their mitts. You know a mascara brush, a hamburger, a liter of water or a tablet while they steer with their knees.

Recent research at Virginia Tech revealed an almost 3-fold increase in the odds of crashing or nearly crashing when dialing a hand-held phone while driving. Risk associated with text messaging may be much higher based on a new study of truck drivers. The main finding here was a 23-fold increase in the odds of crashing, nearly crashing or drifting from a travel lane among truckers who texted while driving.

This list continues.

Whatever happened to the conscientious and courteous driver of yesteryear?

How many motorists today continually scan the road and sidewalks in front of them for kids biking or walking down the sidewalk? How about a watchful eye for the elderly couple out for an early morning stroll? Or someone else walking his or her dog?

Such conduct while driving today has become the exception rather than the rule. Did I mention before that driving today is all about me getting where I need to go?

What we need on our streets and highways today are motorists with the intelligence to understand that driving a car, pickup, motorcycle, bus, van, SUV or anything you crawl behind the wheel and drive requires your undivided attention.

With the ever-growing number of people on roads today, driving must be tuned in to the business of driving. This means no phone calls, no meals, no makeup. Just drive.

There’s never a phone in my car. Don’t need one. Don’t want one. My car functions the way it was intended without one. Anyway, I need to be ever vigilant looking out for all those motorists who are doing everything else in their cars but driving.

Used to be one of the last bastions of individual freedom was cruising in your car with the windows down, the radio playing your favorite song and the wind whistling through your hair. Every so often, you’d raise your index finger to signal, “Hey” to an upcoming motorist who’d reply in kind.

Doesn’t happen today. More than likely the only finger you’ll see in 2016 is the middle finger and it ain’t raised to say hello.

Still I can dream, but not behind the wheel – that’s where I drive. 

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.