Stop the texts, stop the wrecks


Each Christ­mas sea­son, I get my an­nual car in­sur­ance pre­mium bill for the next year. Within mo­ments, I go from Happy Hol­i­days to Bah Hum­bug.

My fam­ily has been quite for­tu­nate (yes, I’m knock­ing on wood). Even with two sons who have taken the wheel as teens and twenty-some­things, we have had no speed­ing tick­ets or re­spon­si­bil­ity for ac­ci­dents in many years. In­sur­ance com­pa­nies should like us. We send them a lot of money, and be­cause we are cau­tious driv­ers, they get to keep it.

So why do they raise our rates each year, usu­ally by 10 per­cent or more? I can as­sure you, that like most folks, I don’t get that kind of salary in­crease each year.

The an­swer, in two words: dis­tracted driv­ing. Your rates, and mine are go­ing up each year be­cause of smart phones, and not-so-smart peo­ple. If you’re look­ing for a solid in­vest­ment, I would rec­om­mend auto body shops. Busi­ness is boom­ing for your local bumper and fender guys.

One body shop owner I know is so over­whelmed, he asked me to use this fo­rum to slow things down. “I’ve got more than I can han­dle,” he told me. “Don’t get me wrong, I like steady work, but peo­ple are get­ting killed out there.”

Think about this. The ve­hi­cles we drive are safer than ever. The com­mer­cials re­mind us of all the new fea­tures that are de­signed to keep us from run­ning into some­one else, and other fea­tures that will pro­tect us if we do. To­day, most peo­ple buckle up. Decades ago, none of us did. Yet ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Safety Coun­cil, dur­ing the past two years the num­ber of peo­ple killed in mo­tor ve­hi­cle col­li­sions jumped from a lit­tle over 35,000 to more than 40,000.

This is why in­sur­ance com­pa­nies an­swer those who com­plain about rate in­creases by say­ing, “It’s not nec­es­sar­ily your fault. But other driv­ers in your zip code are wreck­ing their cars, and some­one’s got to pay for it.”

An in­sur­ance agent told me, “Some states, like Ge­or­gia, have clamped down on dis­tracted driv­ing, pass­ing a law that is sav­ing lives. I wish more states would get on board.”

Ge­or­gia has de­fined dis­tracted driv­ing as talk­ing hands-free on a cell phone, hold­ing a phone, tex­ting and check­ing the ra­dio, but that is just the be­gin­ning.

One po­lice of­fi­cer ad­mit­ted he has to scold his wife when they’re on a trip to­gether. “I’m sit­ting there try­ing to drive, and she’ll shove the phone in front of me, try­ing to show me what some­body posted on In­sta­gram. If I look at that for one sec­ond, sud­denly I’ve rear-ended some­body. And that hap­pens all the time.”

The in­sur­ance agent agrees. She said, “This is what has changed in the smart­phone era. Peo­ple are bar­rel­ing into an­other car at full speed. It has hap­pened to me, it has hap­pened to my son. It can be from the rear, or they can t-bone you at an in­ter­sec­tion. They clearly had no idea what was in front of them, be­cause they didn’t even try to slow down.”

The of­fi­cer said, “What I’m about to tell you would be funny if weren’t so sad. I’ve seen driv­ers putting on makeup, eat­ing and drink­ing with no hands on the wheel, tak­ing a selfie, putting in their con­tacts, floss­ing their teeth, putting on a makeup, read­ing a book, putting on a cos­tume, do­ing every­thing but driv­ing. And I’m not talk­ing about sit­ting at a stop light, these peo­ple are go­ing full speed.”

The good news is, po­lice are pulling them over. As for the ex­cuses, well, let’s just say you can’t make this stuff up.

“Here’s the weird­est one I’ve had lately,” the of­fi­cer said. “I’m in an un­marked car, and I can tell this woman is all over her phone, it is right in front of her face. It’s all she’s look­ing at. I pull her over. She asked me what was wrong. I told her I saw her tex­ting. She firmly de­nied it. She told me she just was watch­ing a video on Face­book, like that was okay. I asked her why, and she said it was a cook­ing video. She said she was us­ing her ‘down time’ to get a recipe.”

De­spite all the pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ments, the clever signs on the high­way, and the catchy slo­gans, too many of us say, “It can’t hap­pen to me. I can multi-task. It’s those other knuck­le­heads who aren’t able to pay at­ten­tion.”

The num­bers prove oth­er­wise. It is hap­pen­ing to me, and to you. Step One is do­ing the right thing your­self, be­ing a good role model for your younger pas­sen­gers. Step Two is mak­ing sure your kids and grand­kids un­der­stand the dangers of dis­tracted driv­ing. Those higher in­sur­ance rates are noth­ing, com­pared to the ul­ti­mate price many griev­ing fam­i­lies pay each day.

David Car­roll, a Chat­tanooga news an­chor, is the au­thor of “Vol­un­teer Bama Dawg,” a col­lec­tion of his best col­umns. You may con­tact him at 900 White­hall Road, Chat­tanooga, Ten­nessee, 37405 or [email protected]


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