Last week my friend Tony was killed in a traffic accident, and his wife remains in critical condition. I had just seen Tony a couple days before the wreck. We served together on a charitable board, which was typical for Tony. He was spending his retirement doing good things for the community and his family. He and his wife were on their way home when a 17 year old girl driving a pickup slammed into them. Luckily she walked away from the accident, which police blamed on “momentary inattention”. I don’t know what caused the tragic event as I wasn’t there, but the unofficial word is that “momentary inattention” is code for “she was texting”.
I walk to work every day, covering approximately two miles each way, most of it through the center of downtown Portland. Given the route I take through Portland State University there are many crosswalks and low speed restrictions, but I have still had to adopt a hyper-defensive approach towards crossing the street. On an almost daily basis I am dodging cars driven by people suffering “momentary inattention”; well-dressed guys in Audi’s and big dudes in pickups chatting on their phones while they run through the crosswalk at double the legal speed; soccer Moms with kids in the back of their SUVs with phones propped up on the steering wheel so they can text (or sometimes they are even applying makeup at the same time). Now before I begin to cross a street I try to look up a hundred yards to see where the driver might be looking. Do they see me, or are their eyes somewhere else? Perhaps looking at a tiny screen placed between their legs or sitting on the center console. It is not uncommon for me to encounter drivers that are having breakfast, texting, and attempting to drive, all at the same time.
Sometimes I am in the middle of the crosswalk when I see the vehicle hurdling at me, and I wave and yell. Usually the driver brakes or swerves to avoid me, giving me a dirty look or even the finger, despite the fact I am in the middle of the crosswalk, and they are the ones suffering the “momentary inattention”.
Unfortunately I understand it. I’ve been driving over thirty five years, and there have been many times I did it badly; driving when I had one too many drinks, driving while talking on the phone, or even texting. But lately, watching the results when other’s do it, I have seen the error of my ways. They potential consequences of “momentary inattention” or any kind of driving impairment are too serious. Tony paid the worst possible price, and I am sure the seventeen year old girl, if in fact she was texting, will regard it as the worst text of her life, for the rest of her life.