Twice on the same day, I was almost knocked over by a distracted walker. In each instance, the individual was a teenager whose eyes were glued to his smartphone.

Granted, we were in a fairly crowded space, but I still found the situation slightly comical. I held my course as long as possible before the point of contact to see what would happen. Each time, the young man seemed startled by my sudden existence, and unfortunately, neither apologized. Each returned his attention to the little screen and resumed his beeline.

Suffice it to say, distracted walking can be dangerous for both our health and that of others. I have barked at my children as they almost trip down the porch steps, “Put the phone down when you walk!”

If strolling at slow speeds with diverted attention is a bodily hazard, what about distracted driving at high speeds in a two-ton automobile? That is a recipe for a deadly collision, indeed.

We more experienced drivers remember life before smartphones, and there were still plenty of distractions in cars. Radio stations to find, temperatures to adjust, friends to argue with, babies to soothe, food to eat, hair to comb . . . and the list continues.

Anything that takes our mind off the road, our eyes off the road, or our hands off the wheel is considered a driving distraction. Texting on a smartphone is the most dangerous yet because it does all three at the same time: it transfers our minds to the message, our eyes to the screen, and our hands to the phone.

According to the Michigan driving manual, texting includes reading, typing or sending a text message. Texting while driving is illegal in 48 states, including Michigan and Indiana. Why? Studies have shown that drivers who text are 23 times more likely to crash.

I remember the young men who almost plowed me down on foot, and I am not surprised.

We more experienced drivers might think that we can slip in a little peek now and then. But consider this data: on average, it takes five seconds to look away from the road to read or send a text. In five seconds at 55 miles per hour, our vehicle travels the length of a football field - and a lot can happen in that space.

Have we set healthy personal smartphone guidelines for the safety of ourselves and others? Where do we need to put the device so that we are not tempted to use it while driving? Are there settings we can use to help us?

We should ask a teenager: they know all about this due to Kelsey’s Law, which prohibits teens with a Level 1 or 2 license from using a mobile phone while driving. My daughter would activate an automatic reply message and then set her phone out of easy reach before starting the car.

Whether walking or driving, whether young or old, we can choose to be smart about smartphones and keep our attention on the path ahead.

By Chrissie Kaufmann, YMCA of Southwest Michigan
Thursday, September 5, 2019 - 19:08