Driving Distractions

by | Jun 4, 2014

Trea Byrnes

If I were to ask my husband to describe my driving, I am sure he would frown and shake his head. Comparatively, in my opinion, I am a very good driver. I am aggressive, yet defensive. So what if my offspring have learned a lot of new vocabulary words while riding with me?

My husband is a broken record: “It’s not a race.” Why, YES it is, Aaron. Keeping the racetrack mentality hones my reflexes and keeps me alert for the stupid moves of other drivers. All the while I maintain my dominance over pokey drivers (I beat my husband every time!) in my NASCAR-esque beige minivan.

Let’s face it, setting my astonishing blinker-flicking reflexes aside, there are an incredible number of things, both inside and outside the vehicle, that create distractions while we drive.

Driving to and from work is the only time I am alone all day. That is probably why, during my 25-minute commute to work, I tend think of THE most important things that must be written down immediately. I am constantly fumbling in the glove compartment, digging around for a pad of paper and a pencil, weaving to and fro while trying to navigate the morning traffic through Worcester, because whatever I must write down can’t wait. I have gotten pretty good at not hitting anything during this process, and on a really good morning I even manage to not spill my coffee.

I admit to being directionally challenged. Everywhere I try to drive the first time, I always make a wrong turn. After years of this nonsense and my first session with “travel” soccer, last summer I ponied up and got myself not only a Garmin, but a phone that offers me the option of getting directions. My Garmin can be very distracting, considering I have a second grader who gravitates towards numbers and focuses on the Garmin’s display from the seat behind me. He gives play-by-play updates on the driving speed (“Up a mile! You are still under the limit – step on the gas!” Or “Mommy! The speed limit is 7 miles below what you are going right now – SLOW down!”) On a recent trip to New York City when Riley critiqued every move my husband made on the incredibly busy Taconic State Parkway that went against the Garmin’s advice, Aaron lost it, finally ripped the power cord out, and we went back to blessed quiet and the old-fashioned printed maps for the remainder of the trip.

Anyone who has children knows how they can turn a perfectly lovely car ride into a time-crawling, headache-inducing exercise in patience. Driving with kids, I have vivid recurring fantasies about those clear windows that partition limousines. We travel frequently to and from Burlington, Vermont, which is roughly a 4-hour drive from our house. I rely heavily on electronics to take the edge off the irritating interactions from the rear of the vehicle. The DVD and Kindle can distract them, but the peace never lasts long enough. I’ve stooped so low as to try to keep them quiet with a slow doling out of processed snack foods or even straight-out candy, but the inevitable always happens. They bicker, they whine, they fidget and fuss. On car trips growing up, I remember my mother constantly threatening to pull the car over and make us, “Get out and walk.” I saw my sister take her up on it, trudging away from our car down a desolate stretch of highway in the middle of a family trip through Wyoming and the light bulb went on: Ahhhh. We DO have the power to make her eat her words! In contrast to my upbringing, I try to only threaten my children with realistic consequences for fighting in the car, usually along the lines of taking away all their books or calling an orphanage.

There was a time last summer on the way up to Burlington when I remember trying to reach behind my seat to find something that was crucial to the survival of my 8-year old, who was yelling at his brother, and I realized I was zigzagging into the left lane and cutting off a car, who honked and startled me. I sheepishly righted the vehicle to be within the lines of the middle lane, and when the car sped past me on the left (Rightly so – avoid the maniacs! Pass the crazy people!), the man and woman in the vehicle both turned and deliberately gave me the angry ARE-YOU-INSANE?!? glare that I have so often bestowed upon other drivers. I gave them a very genuine “I’m sorry!” wave and spent the next 10 minutes humbly hoping they forgave me for my transgression.

While I am driving, I try not to be distracted by pedestrians. You know those people that might step into the crosswalk but since I’m not sure, I’ll just keep driving? I mean, really, the 10 – 15 seconds it takes for me to slow down, stop, and wait for a person to walk across the road will obviously make me very late for work. I try to be careful and non-judgmental of runners and bikers running in the road that I have to veer crazily around grumbling, “Why aren’t you on the SIDEWALK???” because I too run in the road, due to the deplorable condition of most of the sidewalks within a 10-mile radius of my house. I have learned to be very vigilant when I run because most drivers are not paying attention, and have a tendency to pull out without checking both ways. Just ask the two different drivers that almost hit me this Sunday during my run – I’m sure they must be wracked with guilt and losing sleep.

My Welsh friend, Lynne, tells me that in the UK, not only are there no cell phones allowed while driving, but it is illegal to even eat or drink anything while driving. Imagine that! I have excellent snack-and-steer abilities, and since my vehicle cleanliness standards have bottomed out with my two messy boys, I can turn a blind eye to most minor vehicular food indiscretions. I do, however, take issue with the people who drive and use their cell phones, oblivious to everything going on in the roadway. Despite the law, I still see many people texting while driving, and I always want to arrest them immediately.

I grew up in Vermont, one of only four states (Including Alaska, Hawaii and Maine) where billboards are illegal, which makes me very righteous about those aggravations. My biggest pet peeve about driving distractions is the new, digital billboards that change every few seconds. Whoever thought that was a good idea was obviously deranged. I have the pleasure of driving past two of these new sights nearly every day. I find myself on a very short on-ramp to 146 near Walmart, merging into busy traffic, where no one ever gets over to let me on, focused on my driving, and SQUIRREL! That digital billboard, flooded with color and iridescent early-morning sparkles, catches my eye. I remind myself to focus, navigate onto the highway and SQUIRREL! The display changes. How is this in any way a good idea for drivers to be exposed to? Even if I were interested in what the sign is selling, it changes before I can even read it.

Despite all of these challenges that I face in my day-to-day dealings on the roadway, inside and outside the car, I take great pride in the fact that I am a very conscientious driver and most importantly, I am always faster than my husband.