'Cellphone slows' threaten commuteSAM COOK: It was a routine Wednesday evening drive home. November. Dark. I noticed, as I tried to merge into traffic, that a shiny SUV in the nearest lane was veering toward me into the merge lane. I found that a little strange.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
It was a routine Wednesday evening drive home. November. Dark.
I had left work just after 5 p.m., so I became one more set of headlights in what passes for rush hour in Duluth. Which means, as I hit the entrance ramp to Interstate 35 at the tunnels, I could see the lights of at least seven or eight other cars in my vicinity.
I noticed, as I tried to merge into traffic, that a shiny SUV in the nearest lane was veering toward me into the merge lane. I found that a little strange.
I let the SUV ease ahead and slipped in behind it. I thought we might quickly assume the speed limit, but the SUV was dogging along well below the flow of traffic. It also continued to cross the white line at the highway’s edge, driving with two tires in the shoulder area through two tunnels.
Because we were traveling so slowly, traffic was building behind us, and drivers frequently shifted to the left lane to get around us. I was eager to do the same.
Maybe the driver was an older person, I thought. Maybe the glare of all the lights in the tunnels was giving the driver problems. Something else seemed wrong with the SUV, too. Its brake lights were on all the time.
Finally, I seized my chance and pulled out to pass the erratic driver. I glanced over as I went by, curious to see what was happening behind the wheel.
By now, I had begun to suspect a cellphone issue. When I pulled past, I saw the white glow of the smartphone. The driver was holding it right in front of the steering wheel in one hand, looking down at it.
I couldn’t tell if the driver was male or female, young or old. And it didn’t matter.
I suspected the errant driver was texting, given the length of time he or she had been driving erratically. Whatever the case, it was clear that the cellphone use had been compromising the driver’s abilities, putting a lot of other drivers at potential risk.
I thought about the news accounts of vehicle crashes I’d read about in the past few months. One line in those accounts seems to be becoming more common. The stories often state that one of the drivers had crossed the center line.
Most of us have witnessed it firsthand. An oncoming driver drifts into our lane. The driver up ahead weaves in and out of his lane. And the dead giveaway is the case of the cellphone slows, in which the preoccupied driver seems to lose touch with the accelerator pedal.
Technology is wonderful. A lot of us have smartphones. They have the potential to make our lives more convenient in a lot of ways. They also have the potential to get us killed or to kill someone else.
Driving two tons of steel down the road at highway speed while preoccupied with a tiny screen in your lap is a little like waving a loaded rifle around at deer camp. Somebody could get hurt.
Like a lot of other drivers, I dodged a bullet the other night on my way home.