Tag Archives: distracted driving

This Distracted Life

Every week, it seems, WestportNow features an automobile accident that came out of the blue. They happen in broad daylight, on beautiful, clear days.

Whenever I see a photo like the one on Easton Road last week, I think: cell phone. The driver had to have been talking — or worse, texting. How else could someone hit a telephone pole — or another car — in perfect weather?

Alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor has been thinking about this too. He writes:

The other day I sat at a light at the intersection of Green’s Farms Road and Compo. It was a beautiful fall day, with trees starting to turn — what we live for in Westport. I enjoyed the scenery.

The light turned, but the car in front didn’t move. I waited patiently. I saw the driver. Her head was tilted down. I assume she was occupied by her cellphone.

Texting is so much more interesting than paying attention to the road.

Texting is so much more interesting than paying attention to the road.

I waited 5 seconds before tapping my horn. She started up like an Indy 500 driver. There was no “I’m sorry” wave. I guess she had been transported to another place, thanks to her cell.

A few days before that, my wife and I were at a bakery on a weekday afternoon. A man in a business suit came in with a middle school-age girl.

I thought: How nice. A busy dad picked up his daughter at school; now they’ve got some quality time together.

They got food, sat down, and proceeded to take out their cellphones. They looked down as they ate, with no conversation between them.

Recently at Compo, I saw a timeless scene: kids hanging out on the cannons at dusk. But as I got closer, I realized 2 of them were staring down at their cells.

Kids using cellphones on the Compo cannons. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Kids using cellphones on the Compo cannons. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

I’m not a Luddite. I fully embrace the internet, and how we connect in ways unimaginable years ago.

But in the 1950s, television was seen as both a marvel and an innovation with downsides. My parents set clear rules about TV viewing in our home.

I would love to know what types of ground rules Westport parents set about cellphone access and use? Are they barred from dinner tables at home? At restaurants? What — if anything — are you trying to do to ensure that your kids are not only focused on what they’re doing, but that they know you’re focused on them?

Great questions, Fred! Let’s hear what “06880” readers have to say. Click “Comments” to share what happens in your house — the theory and the reality.

Cell Phone Etiquette (Red Light Edition)

Great minds think alike.

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith sent this story idea along. But I’ve thought of it often. So, I’m sure, have you. 

Scott says:

Like most alert “06880” followers, I’ve enjoyed your postings about sloppy or selfish parking jobs.

And like any modern motorist, I’m aware of the dangers of distracted driving. I try to keep my best to keep my cell phone in my pocket when I’m on the road.

But I haven’t noticed any attention paid to a peeve that’s getting worse: The habit of some drivers to wait until they’re at a light to check their phone.

I’m sort of fine with that — except when the light turns green, and the driver in the car ahead of me still has his or her head down.

Cell phone use at traffic light

The car in front of theirs moves — but they don’t. The worst is when you’re in a quick left-hand turn lane. The driver in front of me usually notices the green arrow just in time to speed up and be the last car through.

This strikes me as a frustrating and growing trend. I wonder what the policy to counter such behavior should be. Do we give the cell phone driver a light tap on the horn?

Or do we just accept that traffic lights are a moment in time when you check your texts (or Google Map or Mapquest) for directions?

Either way, it’s driving me crazy.

“06880” readers: What’s the solution? Be creative — but not profane. Click “Comments” below to weigh in on this First World problem.

Dreadful, Dopey, Deadly Drivers

From time to time — okay, a lot — I talk about Westport drivers.

Not in a real positive way, either.

Readers always comment, adding their own examples, insights and invectives.

But we’re the blog version of Sunday drivers, compared to another website.

Dreadful Drivers devotes itself twice a week — and solely — to the “anger, bafflement, disbelief and, very occasionally, amusement” created by the antics of Fairfield County motorists.

Yesterday’s post was a classic. Referring only to Westport, it read:

Holy smokes, it’s been a bad week on the roads in this little zip code.

Three incidents stand out:

An SUV driver pointed a handgun at the passenger of another car on the Wilton Road. What a nice fellow. According to the news report, the gun-toter overtook another car in a no-passing zone and when both cars were later stopped at an intersection, the passenger of the passed car  got out (terrible mistake! never do that!) and went to the SUV. Whereupon he found himself staring at a handgun. Police later tracked down the SUV driver and found him in – legal – possession of a Glock .40-caliber handgun. 

A woman driving on Bayberry Lane slammed her Buick SUV into a utility pole so hard that she snapped the pole. Bayberry Lane twists, winds, dips and climbs and would be Westport’s own rally track, except that it’s a public road, lined with (rather large) houses so the speed limit is 25 mph (and 20 mph in places). So either the driver had a medical incident (quite possible), wasn’t looking at the road (very possible) or was driving too fast (everyone does). Bayberry Lane is also popular with cyclists and runners, me included. I’ll avoid it from now on. If Buick driver can’t see steer clear of a utility pole, then moving targets have no chance.

This drunk driver could be any other, until you read the detail of the story. Police had tried to stop the woman driver on the Post Road, but she proceeded onto the I-95 northbound. While driving within the speed limit, she was swerving widely in her lane. Local and state police cruisers brought the car to a halt and the woman driver, smelling of alcohol, “could not stand up on her own and had trouble keeping her eyes open” according to cops. WTF. WTF! Take away her driving license and give her a bus pass.

Beyond dreadful.

“Dreadful Drivers” is right. It is beyond dreadful.

But also waaaaay  too typical.

Driving, Running, Talking About Slowing Down

Tuesday’s accident — a Staples cross country runner was struck by a minivan driver on Long Lots Road — has caused quite a stir.

Drivers have to slow down! some Westporters say.

Joggers and bikers have to share the road! others counter.

Meanwhile, alert “06880” reader Kim Lake calls the accident “truly unsettling.”

But, she adds, “even more unsettling were the comments on WestportNow about kids and their attitudes about sharing the road. Wow!

In Westport, runners often take to the roads.

“I’m appalled at the absolute absence of empathy on the part of some people in our community sometimes, at their sense of righteousness when all the facts are not even known.”

(From all indications the Staples runner was not at fault. Coaches and runners followed all proper procedures.)

For a long time, Kim has wanted more legal, clearly defined bike lanes in town. When Diane Farrell’s administration held their public hearings on her version of a Downtown Plan, Kim spoke about bike lanes and walking paths. “I was disappointed that all my comments fell on deaf ears,” she says.

On a recent trip to Washington, DC, she was impressed that a company named Spotcycle has successfully set up a system where people can, for a small fee, easily use bikes to get themselves anywhere. They pick up a bike at one station and and drop it off at their destination.

As soon as she saw how well it works, she thought: “If only in Westport…”

A couple years ago, when Kim chaired the Green Task Force, she spoke to a town employee about bike lanes. Though an avid biker himself, he was distraught.

“He would love to provide bike lanes throughout town,” she notes. “Stringent federal laws, however, prevent taking action (something about all streets having to be widened). Can you imagine the discussions that proposal would generate?”

The ideal — bicyclists in single file, all with helmets — even without a bike lane.

Kim continues: “In light of this recent incident, and especially in light of the insensitive comments, I think we should have a Town Meeting, with politicians and the Police Department, about how we drive in this town.

“Between texting, cellphones and the rush to get somewhere (wherever it is) FAST, it’s time we stop and reflect about civility and safety on the roads.”

Laws and tickets are not the only way to get people to slow down and pay attention, Kim says.

“Community consciousness can have a tremendous impact. I hope that out of this sad incident, something good will happen.”

Accidents Happen

“You should write about all the automobile accidents in Westport,” an “06880” reader wrote.

Why? I wondered.  They happen with such regularity, they’re just a fact of life here.

Covering car crashes would be like blogging that “the sun rose in the east today,” or “a new women’s store opened on Main Street.”

But Wednesday’s 3-car accident grabbed my attention.

2 of the 3 cars involved in Wednesday's accident. The other vehicle was just as mangled. (Photo by Dave Matlow)

It was early afternoon.  Skies were clear.  The stretch of Main Street in front of Willowbrook Cemetery is straight and well-paved.

Yet somehow the driver of a Ford Taurus managed to smash into both a Pontiac and Mercedes.  The Taurus driver had to be extricated.

All 3 vehicles were totaled.

Readers of WestportNow.com, which first reported the crash, weighed in.  One suggested speed was a factor.  Another figured cell phones.

I’m guessing both.

Is there any place in Westport that’s so important to get to that we have to drive like madmen (and women)?

Is there any reason for racing through every light and stop sign; tailgating every guy (and gal) ahead of us, and doing it all while yapping into a device glued with one hand next to our ear?

Driving past cemeteries is fine.  Ending up in one because some other Westporter (or New Yorker) thinks the world revolves around him (or her) is not.

I’m always amazed when parents bitch about the poor driving habits of teenagers.  Kids don’t grow up in vacuums.  They take their cues from everyone around them.

And they don’t start at 16.  That baby strapped in the car seat watches — and wants to mimic — everything you do.

A bumper sticker says:  “Shut Up And Drive.”

Amen.

Do it at a normal rate of speed, too.

If not for me and you, do it for our kids.

And yours.

Photographer Dave Matlow captures the aftermath of Wednesday's crash -- on a clear day, along a very straight stretch of the road.

The Deadliest Road

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign has analyzed all 105 pedestrian deaths on Connecticut streets from 2007-09.

In Fairfield County over those 3 years, 20 pedestrians were killed by drivers.

The most dangerous road — the deadliest in the entire state, in fact — was the Post Road.  It accounted for 6 deaths.

The statewide figures for 2010 are not yet in.  But at the end of last year, 2 people were killed in Westport within a month.  That makes 3 over the past 2 years.

All were killed on the Post Road.

Last month, another woman was struck on the same road.  Luckily, she lived.

The figures are clear.  The Post Road is deadly.

We drive too fast, too recklessly, too distractedly.  We are not deterred by law enforcement.  Our culture reveres cars and discourages walking; our community takes that to an extreme.

That’s the problem.

So what’s the solution?

Recently, the family of Billy Ford — the 1st victim of the recent carnage — donated $7,000 to cover the cost of solar-powered, button-activated pedestrian crosswalk lights.  They’re now operational at 1655 Post Road East, the site of Billy’s death.

That’s one answer.  There must be more.

“06880” readers have opinions about donut shops, dogs on beaches, and countless other quality of life issues.

Now it’s time to speak up on a matter of — literally — life and death.

Crossing the Post Road can be deadly.

Txtng Klls (Cntd)

Last week, “06880” reported on an important effort by Staples’ Teen Awareness Group to educate peers on the problem idiocy of texting while driving.

A survey was done as part of the project.  The results are in. 

Results are mixed.  There’s good news (awareness of the issue) and bad (the issue is real).

Among the 101 high school drivers surveyed:

  • 42 have texted while driving; 56 have not
  • 7 have lost control of their car while texting; 10 came close to crashing
  • 32 say it’s easy to text and drive; 52 say it’s not
  • 46 talk with their parents about texting and driving; 43 don’t
  • 52 talk with their friends about it; 43 don’t.

Among the 171 passengers surveyed:

  • 130 have been in a car when the driver texted; 16 have not
  • 14 were comfortable when the driver texted; 138 were not (3 said “it depends on who”)
  • 117 have said something to driver about his or her behavior; 42 have not
  • 47 have been in a car that came close to crashing while the driver texted; 118 have not
  • 95 talk with their parents about texting while driving; 65 do not
  • 85 talk with their friends about the topic; 75 do not.

Some further insights into Staples’ student drivers:

The cars most of them drive are Hondas (16) and Toyotas (12).  Those are followed by Jeep (7), Volvo (6), and BMW and Lexus (5 each).  Three drive Mercedeses.

The 2 most popular phones are BlackBerries (30) and iPhones (21).

Feel free to pass along this important distracted-driving survey.  By email, please. 

Not text.

(The TAG TXT U L8TR project is sponsored by Yale-New Haven Hospital and Allstate.)

Txtng Klls

Teenagers text.  It’s as natural to them as eating, drinking, and thinking about sex.

In fact, they text while they eat, drink, and (yes) have sex.

They also text while they drive.

So do their parents.

But at least a group of teenagers is trying to do something about it.

Zach Slater — a Staples senior who serves on the Yale-New Haven Hospital youth board —  brought the “Txtng Klls” (“texting kills,” for those of you > 18) movement to his high school.

Sponsored by Allstate, it asks teenagers to take pledge not to text while driving.

They back up their pledge with a thumbprint.  It’s a natural:  Thumbs are the primary texting digit.

At Staples earlier this week, the Teen Awareness Group got several hundred students to pledge with their thumbs.  In return, they received thumb rings saying “Txting Klls” — hopefully, a vivid reminder whenever they text.

 

Blue thumbprints on the poster -- and a thumb ring on the "thumb."

 

TAG also distributed surveys — asking students about their texting habits, as drivers and passengers — to help Zach with a research project.

A couple of hundred students responded.  Results are being tabulated.

Thumbs-up to Zach and TAG for tackling this important issue.

Driving Dogs

Out West, “drive ’em, dogie” means moving motherless calves along the trail.

Here in Westport it refers to a new trend:  people driving cars with their dogs on their laps.

An alert “06880” reader emailed us about this disturbing development — one we’ve noticed too.

What is it about our town that turns normally intelligent people into spectacularly poor decision-makers?

(Photo courtesy of Dogster.com)

Are folks here so attached to their pooches that they can’t bear to leave home without them?  Do they think their pets will be so bereft sitting in the passenger (or, worse, rear) seats that they need to plop them (the dogs) in their (the drivers’) laps?

We’ve already seen an epidemic of texting, reading, nail clipping and mascara applying while driving.

What’s next?

We’re afraid to ask.