Driving: Automobile Drivers’ Seats Becoming a Mobile Sofa; Public Transit Agencies Strenuously Emphasize Attention to Vehicle Operation

Driving is described as a complex activity requiring, “quick thinking and reactions, good perceptual abilities, and split-second decision-making.” Interestingly, the source for this statement is written for deciding when an person Alzheimer’s disease should stop driving. However, a similar analysis should occur in determining whether automobiles have too many distractions obfuscating a driver’s responsibility to other people using the public highways.  Similarly, the analysis should also include a study of the effects of electronic gadgetry on pedestrians and bicyclists.

An article in the New York Times seems to describe a situation that the driver’s seat is increasingly becoming a mobile sofa. The complexity of driving is de-emphasized in favor of spontaneous communication.

According to the New York Times, a driver was killed at an intersection in Oklahoma when another driver failed to obey a red traffic signal. The errant driver proceeded through the intersection at 45 miles per hour. The driver who struck the driver in the right of way was discussing an item of furniture found at a retail store with a neighbor on a cellphone.

The tenor of the New York Times article was sympathetic to the driver who ran the red traffic signal. The driver is described as an young, earnest, polite, law-abiding, and respectable person who just happened to cause a death through mere inattention to traffic conditions on the public highway.

The driver pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of negligent homicide (OK Code section 47-11-903), and was sentenced, in part, to 240 hours of community service.

In distinct contrast, some categories of drivers are required to respect the need for complete attention while operating a motor vehicle. In the Washington, DC area public transit agency, WMATA, a “zero tolerance policy” against cellphone or personal digital assistant use while operating WMATA buses or subway trains is being implemented. The rule came after a YouTube video showed a Metrorail operator using a cellphone while the train was in motion (before the Metrorail accident that occurred on June 22, 2009).

In truth, all users of the public highways and operators of public transit vehicles should be expected to focus total attention on the road for the safety of all.