Just Drive. Just Run. Just Focus.

Over the past few years there has been so much information about the dangers of texting and driving.  We have read the facts and seen the horrific pictures from deadly accidents.  And yet, it surprises me how many people still continue to text and drive.  I have been driving a lot more lately and with that I have noticed how prevalent not only texting and driving is but distracted driving in general.  I see it on the interstate, down highways on the way to work, and a lot on neighborhood streets.

Yet, it isn’t just the drivers.  The other day I was walking down the street and a girl descended the steps from a train and walked right into me while she texted.  She looked up, said nothing, and then continued to walk in front of me and finish whatever she was doing.  Not only was she distracted and possibly putting herself at danger, but we forget common courtesy with these behaviors.  We get so wrapped up in our conversations on our phone that we forget about the people around us, including their safety.

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On Friday I went out for a lovely run.  The weather was incredible and it felt like spring had fully arrived here in Chicago.  As I was running the streets of my neighborhood I came to an intersection where I had the right of way.  But a car pulled up to a rolling stop (I am being generous with that term) and without looking up continued on.  The driver had both hands on the wheel as he texted at the same time.  I didn’t realize that his driver’s side window was open and I shouted something at his car.  He stopped abruptly when he heard me and the look of fear on his face was impossible to miss.  He was shocked to realize that he could have hit me and didn’t even notice I was there.  Fortunately for me I always assume drivers won’t pay attention to a pedestrian and that kept me safe.

I hate to sound like an old lady (although I really am).  But I remember a time when I was in high school and I was dating a boy two states away.  Our parents let us call each other twice a week and talk for 15 minutes, because it was long distance and we had to pay by the minute.  Hard to believe, but I grew up in the age of no cell phones.  How the heck did we make it?  In fact, let me age myself just a touch more.  My first cell phone was a giant one my parents bought me for my long road trips and it came in it’s own bag that also charged through the lighter in the car.  It was huge!  My point is that there was a time not that long ago when we weren’t completely and constantly attached to a phone, and you know what?  We survived.

I am by no means perfect but when I am in the car I make a point to have it be a phone free space.  The phone sits on the passenger seat and despite the fact that I get many texts and Facebook messages during my daily commute, I leave the phone there until I reach my destination.  I repeat this a lot and I truly mean it: How many texts could possibly be worth putting yours or someone else’s life at risk?  The truth is none.  The odds of you getting an extremely pressing or urgent message that must be answered in the next 30 minutes is very rare.  It can wait.

While I see a lot of texting on the interstate or daily commute, the one space where I see the majority of phone usage in the car is in our neighborhood.  We live in a lovely residential area of Chicago.  We fell in love with the tree lined streets and thought it would be the perfect place to start a family.  But this is the spot where cars drive at a slowish pace and drivers spend most of their time on their phones as they move from stop sign to stop sign.

Over the past few decades there has been a huge push towards multitasking.  Doing one thing is great but you are more productive if you can take care of a list of jobs all at once.  Sadly, this mantra seems to roll over into all of our lives.  We hang out with friends and Facebook at the same time.  We walk around on a beautiful spring day and message friends as they do the same thing, instead of meeting for lunch or a cup of coffee.

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While multitasking can be helpful in many areas of our lives, we need to take back the focus.  As drivers we need to put our focus on the road, on other drivers, and most importantly on those who are not in cars.  We have got to get rid of the notion that it is other drivers who are creating the problem or are dangerous.  Anyone who is texting or playing on their phone while driving is putting themselves and others in harm’s way.  As pedestrians we need to focus on where we are going.  And as runners we need to pay attention to the dangers that surround us and not think we are immune to them.  Always assume that the driver is not paying attention and don’t take your right of way for granted.  Until a driver acknowledges your presence, don’t cross the street.

Let’s all focus and stay in the moment.  Remember what is important and not put our lives or others as risk.