What’s the most dangerous thing on the road?

Published 6:30pm Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I have done plenty of stupid and dangerous things in my life. I crossed the Gulf of Mexico in the middle of the night during a huge storm. We certainly tested the seaworthiness of the “Why Knot” that night. It was the only time in my life I got seasick.

I used to swim out to the second sandbar at Panama City Beach at night, giving no thought to the sharks, currents and tides. I have water-skied around alligators, using their bobbing heads as sort of buoy to ski around.

I have hiked in a hailstorm, a snow storm, and used a guy wire to edge across the face of a cliff. I have slept alone in the woods for a week without ever seeing another human being.

I have climbed in the tops of warehouses and overhead conveyors without any of the safety equipment that is required today. There were no guidelines to guarantee your safety and the work needed to be done.

Like most of us, regardless of our age, the worst of the dangerous things I have done have been on the road while driving. I have always thought of myself as a careful and safe driver, but that really wasn’t always the case.

There have been times I should not have been driving at all, because I was too tired or sleepy or not in the best condition to be alert. I have driven too fast for much of my life, although I have finally slowed it down.

I received not one, but two speeding tickets the first month after I turned 16. To be honest, I wasn’t going that fast, but I was above the 25-mph speed limit on some of Dothan’s residential streets.

I also got two speeding tickets in one day. The powerful BMW I was so proud of was made for speed and the highway patrol in Florida targeted me easily. It was like shooting ducks in a pond. I sold that car shortly after those tickets.

Other than the hiking, which I loved, any of these things were not only dangerous, but also stupid. I realize that I am lucky to be alive given that even a small mistake when you are going 100 mph can be fatal.

Of all the things I have done, seen done, or wanted to do that are dangerous, I now believe that nothing is as dangerous and stupid as texting while you are driving an automobile.

I admit that I text; more than some and a lot less than others. It isn’t just something that young people do any more. My 80-year-old mother knows that the quickest way to reach me is to send me a text.

I will also admit that on three occasions I have tried to text while driving, which shows you that age doesn’t cure you of being stupid. On all three occasions, I was off the road in just a matter of seconds. Then and there I decided that texting would kill me quicker than speeding and I stopped.

It isn’t the same as talking on the phone while driving, although that is dangerous as well. Bluetooth in cars have made it easier to communicate if you have to talk. But texting doesn’t just take your attention away from the road; you have to use your fingers and your eyes to find the letters.

That is just too much competition for your attention when you are moving 60 mph in a two-ton piece of metal. Yet nearly 50 percent of teens admit to texting while driving. The percentages aren’t quite that high for adults, but are higher than you would ever imagine.

You can prove it to yourself. The next time you are headed to Dothan or Tallahassee, just look at the cars that you pass on the four-lane roads. It is astounding at how many people are texting while driving. In my observations, any car that is driving slowly in the left lane is as likely as not being piloted by a texting driver.

During a recent trip to Dothan, two vehicles drifted from their lanes directly towards my car. In both cases, the driver was so absorbed in their texting that they weren’t even aware of their lane change until I blew my horn.

Studies indicate that a texting driver is much more distracted than even an intoxicated driver. The awareness is less, the reaction time is slower, and the vehicle may travel twice as far as it normally would when confronted by a traffic situation.

Last night, I had a dream about riding with my father while he was texting. He has been dead for 11 years, but I knew this morning what my column would be about this week.

If I have to text, I will pull off the road. If you have to text while I am riding with you, I will ask to get out of the car. I have done some stupid and dangerous things in my life. Nothing even begins to compare to driving while texting.

Dan Ponder can be reached at dan@ponderenterprises.net.

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