FLINT - All of a sudden - seemingly overnight - distracted driving has become a horrific problem in Michigan.
The statistics are staggering: 9,000 cell phone related crashes over the past decade, another 34,000 involving other distractions, 3,000 deaths nationwide.
It's enough to make a guy take up bicycling. Except, of course, to get anywhere on a bike you have to go out on the roads, and it's a jungle out there.
So, yeah, you can say we have a problem on our hands.
But it's not distracted driving, per se. The real problem is that everyone thinks distracted is something other people do.
That's not true, of course. To drive is to be distracted. There's that scene in "Defending Your Life" where Albert Brooks fishes around for a dropped cassette, takes his eye off the road, and, boom, suddenly he's an angel.
We all do it, but I don't think we realize to what degree.
I know I didn't. On the way to the gym Sunday morning, I decided to take note of everything that distracted me, even for just a few seconds, which is all it takes.
Here's my list:
- Radio. I have AM, FM and XM radio, which combined gives me hundreds of channels that never have anything worth listening to. So as usual, I did a lot of button jabbing, knob spinning and digital read-out watching.
- Yogurt. I was running late and didn't have time to eat so I grabbed a yogurt and a spoon on the way out the door. To my credit, I ate it mostly at red lights, but not entirely.
- Coffee. I also brought along a mug of coffee, but not a travel mug.
So I kept glancing down to see that it wasn't sloshing too much, which of course it was, making a little coffee swimming pool in the cup holder.
- Cell phone. I called the lovely yet formidable Marcia to tease her about not putting enough coffee in the coffee, which she often does because she apparently needs a coffee to be awake enough to make the coffee. Life is very hard.
- Steering wheel gizmo. I have a little push button thingy on the steering wheel that tells me my tire pressure, gas mileage and so on. I'm addicted to it. I don't know why.
- Notepad. I keep a small notepad in a little bin on top of the dash so I can scribble down column ideas as they come to me, including one about how I should keep track of all the distractions I have while driving eight short miles to the gym.
Looking at my list - which is by no means complete - I'm surprised I didn't end up in a ditch. I'm surprised we all don't end up in ditches or in one another's laps on a daily basis. Maybe we should knock it off and pay more attention.
I will if you will.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.