A couple of weeks ago I made a grown man cry. He didn’t actually break down but had a hard job trying not to. Why? What did I do?
I made a speech.
I made a speech at my wonderful Early Birds Toastmaster’s club about the consequences of using mobile phones while driving. The purpose of that particular project, speech 9, is to persuade with power. I had some qualms about giving this speech to an audience of sensible, bright, intelligent people, as I did not believe that anyone who fits that description can possibly imagine they can control a car while holding the wheel with one hand, still less text at the same time, still less watch a video. I assumed I would be preaching to the converted. I was in for a shock.
I’d already had quite a shock when I researched the subject. I had intended to speak about holding phone conversations, specifically using hand-held devices and maybe mention texting. However, once I started to look into it I found that events had overtaken me. Not only is the use of phones in cars apparently accepted but texting is going the same way. It’s already endemic in the States but is rapidly taking hold here too. And it will come as no surprise to hear that the number of accidents and fatalities where phones were a contributory factor is rising steadily.
The thing that most alarms me and makes me despair is the creeping normality of it. Unbelievable as it seems nowadays, there was a time when drinking and driving was normal. Everybody did it. But the fatalities mounted, campaigns were instigated and gradually people’s perception changed. But not before many people had been injured or died needlessly. Though there will always be some people who ignore the dangers, nevertheless these days drinking and driving is just not acceptable. Sadly this is not the case with the use of mobiles and other devices. You just have to look at some of the new car models – with screens on the dashboard and Internet access. Some do have ‘eyes free’ voice activation as a safety device – but still.
Anything you do in a car besides driving it is a distraction. You’re in control of what is in effect a lump of metal travelling at speed. Those seconds of inattention can kill or maim you or someone else and should that happen it’s guaranteed to change your life forever. When you are driving a car you need to have every single sense alert, to be listening as well as looking. If you are speaking on the phone, dialling, fiddling with the radio or Satnav or, God forbid, texting you are not alert. And although you may be the best driver in the world you have to allow for the fact that there will be at least one idiot on your stretch of road and, in all probability, more than one. You have to anticipate their movements so you can take avoiding action where necessary.
When I made this speech I deliberately made it personal. I wanted people to stop and think how they’d feel if they killed someone. If they killed a child, deprived a family of their dad, their mum, a brother, a sister. How would they feel if they killed a friend travelling in the car with them, or a member of their own family? Or, to look at it from a totally selfish point of view, a few seconds inattention could cost you your licence, your job, your home and could land you in prison. It might be you who will spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair, who ends up brain dead. It might be your family who has the expense of adapting the house and the agony of seeing you incapacitated.
We all do stupid things. We are all capable of being distracted but we can minimise the effect. I don’t use my phone in the car but that doesn’t make me a saint. I am just as likely as anyone else to get infuriated by other drivers, to get impatient to be tempted to take risks. When I do I have a technique that works really well. I imagine that I have family in the car with me or if not that the woman in the vehicle ahead is my sister, the man walking along the pavement is my dad, that the young boy riding the bicycle that’s holding me up is my nephew. Believe me, it puts everything in perspective. So I’m late for a meeting – is that worth a life?
The distinguished German film director and producer Werner Herzog has recently made a 35 -minute documentary sponsored by the American cell service provider, AT&T and also supported by other groups. Entitled “From One Second to the Next” it follows to ‘a series of public service TV commercials he has already directed for the company aimed at youngsters to get them to stop texting and driving. The fact that the mobile providers themselves are spending money to discourage this behaviour is significant and welcome.
The Herzog film is powerful. The image above is the first image in the film; in the voiceover the child explains that she was walking along the pavement with her brother, hand in hand and ‘all of a sudden my hand was empty.” Her hand was empty because her brother had been mowed down by a car driven by a young girl who was texting. The little brother ‘X’ is now a paraplegic. I urge you to watch. Please watch it. It’s so easy to think it may not happen to us or indeed that it’s all a big fuss about nothing. I don’t think you’ll think that when you’ve seen the film.
I was shocked by the research and I was even more shocked by the reaction to my speech. I thought I was preaching to the converted. I wasn’t. So many people came up afterwards and said that yes, they used their phones when driving and yes, texted as well. The phones were not a great surprise, the texting certainly was. I didn’t set out to make anyone cry but couldn’t help but be gratified that my words had evoked such a response. I was also gratified by the amount of people who told me the speech had jolted them, who went on to look at the video and resolved not to use their phones in the car again. Here’s the link to the film again – we should all watch it from time to time. Just to remind ourselves of the devastation that can be caused by a moment’s avoidable distraction.