Today, waiting to meet a young friend to cycle to school with my younger boy and me, we watched the morning rush hour traffic on a fairly busy road between us and school. I saw a lot of people surreptitiously looking down at their phones as they drove past, dicing with the cycle commuters and school kids riding on the painted bike path (no physical protection). The road is very narrow, and goes around a bend, and it's common for cars to veer, sloppily, into the bike lane as they drive.
The fact so many were looking at their phones the instant they were driving past me as I stood beside the road, suggests that a larger percentage would look at their phone during their commute. Probably most of them. That is an indictment on those people.
Based on my observation, I have little doubt that many of your reading this routinely do precisely that, somehow justifying to yourself that you need to look at your phone while driving. You're simply wrong. It's callously inconsiderate of other road users to be in charge of a tonne of glass, plastic, and steel and not be focused entirely on the others around you. Most of those you pass are probably anonymous to you, and yet, in your inattention, your car (or any other car on that stretch of road) could end up being pivotal in their lives: yours could be the last car that they ever hear.
Feeling the need to check your phone constantly, and, worse yet, to respond while you're driving, shows a weakness of character and deep insecurity. It's lack-of-self-discipline in the face of purposefully addictive social media apps. Yes, the corporations competing for your attention are unethical and a scourge on humanity, to be sure. But you're playing along when you should, instead, be shunning them on principle. (And yes, it's still illegal, at least here in NZ, to use your phone while stopped at a traffic light. You're still in traffic, and in charge of a vehicle)
You're not the only one who is in the wrong - the corporations building the software share responsibility and we'd all be better off without them - but only you can make yourself do the right thing.
The world needs people who have the backbone to do something when they realise what they're doing is needlessly putting others at risk. Until we do, our roads will be death traps for our kids - who're innocent and probably doing all the right things. Even if they make the occasional error of judgement or something just plain stupid, most of us parents dearly hope it's something they learn from... but not life altering or ending. It's the adults who know better who're doing wrong.
And, sadly, when tragedy happens, the perpetrators typically face no real legal consequences: my staunch cycling neighbour was hit by a bus that 'didn't see her' a few weeks ago while she was riding around a roundabout. She died 2 weeks later. Her husband of 50 years is bereft. There's no evidence the bus driver was distracted - she was simply inattentive (showing that even under the best circumstances, driving is dangerous, even without the inexcusable addition of illegal distractions like cellphones). The perpetrators just have to deal with their consciences for the rest of their lives. How would you or I cope with killing someone's child or father or mother or sister.
If you're staunch about 'walking the talk' and don't indulge yourself in inattentive behaviours while driving, thank you for being a benevolent, community-minded human. You're among the best of us, but we can't congratulate ourselves for simply doing the right, decent, considerate thing. No, the rest of us need stop accepting and tolerating our own weakness and call out that of others - peer pressure is one of our most powerful social forces.
In the bigger picture, the "I'll appease my frivolous curiosity with my phone while I should be focused on the road" mentality (or lack there of) is the same one that makes the average person indifferent to the plight of our planet - our climate, our biodiversity, our basic sustainability, our social cohesion, the opportunities for future generations to... have a future. When I see that mentality - where people are unwilling to change their existing behaviour that is unhealthy for them, those around them, and the planet they depend on to survive - is so pervasive, I can't help but despair.
Feelings of guilt and shame often motivate change. That's what people engaging in the actions I describe above should be feeling. We need a revolution... of conscience. We all want to be good people - most of us think we are and some of us are right... But I'd say that knowingly choosing to put other people's safety at risk for a superficial 'dopamine hit' is not what a good person does.
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