Primal Numbers – It Can Wait

Shiny buttons. We love them, don’t we? On our mobile screens, on the animated mall directory, at the movie kiosk. Everywhere we look, those sliding, swiping screens make life easier and more fun. But they’re also killing us. Not in slow ways, but in sudden, violent, tragic ways. Cellphones now kill more drivers than drunk driving does?yet we just can’t seem to stop texting and driving.

The alarming news came just ahead of the Labour Day weekend. The Globe and Mail reported the numbers: in Ontario, road deaths caused by distracted driving were at 19 per cent in 2010. In 2013, that shot up to 26 per cent, and the year isn’t over yet. If You’re texting behind the wheel, You’re ?23 times more likely to be involved in a crash.? Prefer to talk while You’re driving? You’re still about four times more likely to smash into something or someone.

Perhaps the most frightening thing is that the mayhem isn’t caused because we don’t know better; those numbers reflect an upswing in deaths after the use of handheld mobiles was banned by the province in 2009. Several other provinces and countries have similar bans. And still the death rate keeps climbing.

It’s easy to blame it on irresponsible teens getting behind the wheel with their smart phones. But middle-aged parents, business execs, seniors?they’re all doing it too. Even on the job.

Like the air-ambulance pilot in Missouri who spent his day sending a steady stream of text messages, even ?while the helicopter was in flight and during a phone call about whether to undertake the mission.? The helicopter crashed, killing the pilot, a flight nurse, a flight paramedic, and the patient they were transporting.

Then there was the California commuter train crash in September 2008.The 46-year-old train driver sent and received several text messages in the moments before the crash. He sent his last message just 22 seconds before the train skipped a red light and hurtled into a freight locomotive. The crash killed 25 people and injured another 135. Reuters reported that after the accident, ?California authorities temporarily banned railroad workers from using cellphones on duty.?

So what should we do? Ban the technology altogether? Of course not. It’s useful, convenient, and even saves lives when used intelligently?like the Mobiles in Malawi program, which uses SMS to link people in remote areas to nearby medical aid.

The problem with the carnage on our roads isn’t the tool, but the way we’re using it. In an effort to raise awareness, the It Can Wait campaign challenges people to pledge that they won’t text and drive. The site offers plenty of stats, an app, and even lets you test your skills on a Texting and Driving Simulator.

But if That’s not enough to hit home for you?or if you still think you can get away with it?you should watch this video by famed director Werner Herzog. It’s called From One Second to the Next, and it will take 34 minutes of your life. Not a very long time when you consider it might just be long enough to save it.

S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).