I saw this bumper sticker while speeding down the Northwest Tollway on my way home from O’Hare the other day. I knew I had to have one.
So I whipped out my iPhone and went to “store”.
I searched for, located, then downloaded the iPhone app that connects me directly with eBay. After logging in with my username and password, I simply typed in “h-a-n-g-_-u-p-_-a-n-d-_-d-r-i-v-e” in the search box.
As usual, I had to backspace a few times to get the correct term typed in, but I eventually persevered. Alas, too many results came up.
Blowing past Elmhurst Rd, I tried again, this time typing in “h-a-n-g-_-u-p-_-a-n-d-_-d-r-i-v-e–_-b-u-m-p-e-r-_-s-t-i-c-” before some jerk-off driving his wife’s mini-van while chatting away on his
phone nearly cut me off before I could finish.
I quickly stashed my venti vanilla skim latte in its holder and simultaneously honked and waved with less fingers than my left hand contains, while clutching my iPhone in my right. What was this chucklehead thinking?
By the time I was ready to exit onto Barrington Road, I still hadn’t found what I was looking for on eBay. I was miffed until I realized how the trip down the tollway seemed to take no time at all. In fact, I couldn’t really remember driving it. What just happened for the last 20 minutes?
I decided to postpone my eBay search until I got home. It was time to pay some serious attention in case a deer decided to jump out in front of me. Gotta be extra alert out by me…
That’s one of my peeves, and I would bet many of you share it as well. It’s the self-important “distracted drivers” that piss me off as they try to multi-task while guiding a multi-ton vehicle hurtling down the multi-lane highway.
The whole episode reminded me of a story I had seen in at NewYorkTimes.com, that addressed the increasing amount of gadgetry gradually accumulating in the cabs of emergency vehicles. In addition to the normal gauges, lights, dials, mirrors, radios, and sirens, more and more electronica is competing for our attention as we attempt to safely navigate our way through traffic as quickly and as safely as possible.
Like a litter of eleven puppies competing for six nipples, we've been inundated with computers, map routing and GPS devices, cell phones, and multiple radio frequencies- all looking for a spot in our collective cerebrums as we try to wrap our heads around pre-planning our first few steps upon arrival at the emergency scene.
I ask you this: How much is too much? When do WE cross the line and become just another distracted responder?
As the NYT article explains, there is no data currently being collected regarding accidents involving emergency responders distracted by TMI. But there are several anecdotes:
“Philip Macaluso, a New York paramedic, recalled a moment recently when he was rushing to the hospital while keying information into his dashboard computer. At the last second, he looked up from the control panel and slammed on his brakes to avoid a woman who stepped into the street.
In April 2008, an emergency medical technician in West Nyack, N.Y., looked at his GPS screen, swerved and hit a parked flatbed truck. The crash sheared off the side of the ambulance and left his partner, who was in the passenger seat, paralyzed.
In June 2007, a sheriff’s deputy in St. Clair County, Ill., was driving 35 miles per hour when a dispatcher radioed with an assignment. He entered the address into the mapping system and then looked up, too late to avoid hitting a sedan stopped in traffic. Its driver was seriously injured.”
Even my own friend and fellow podcaster Greg Friese was quoted in the article, citing his own experience in which he felt it necessary to demand the distracted driver of his ambulance to step away from his cell phone:
“My partner was checking baseball scores as he was driving a patient to the hospital. I looked through the passageway and said, ‘You’ve got to stop that right now,’ ” recalls Greg Friese, a paramedic in central Wisconsin, who was treating a patient in the back. Mr. Friese also develops online training programs for medics, E.M.T.’s, police officers and firefighters.
“We’re dealing with the carnage, which ranges from the trivial to the tragic, of distracted driving,” he said. “We should know better.”
Yes we should.
Developing policies which establish specific rules regarding the use of personal devices may not be enough. Are we actually contributing to the problem by becoming enablers?As we decide how to utilize the constant array of new technology, we need to address the amount of distraction we’re placing upon our responders. It is crucial to recognize and accept that too much input may result in a decreased ability to process the information in a way that is useful. Worse yet,distracted emergency responders may bring increased civil and criminal liabilities upon our departments.
The last thing I need is another fire engine flying past me with a distracted driver while I’m trying to surf the web and revise my fantasy hockey roster.
John Mitchell is a fire Lieutenant and paramedic in suburban Chicago.
He is a fire and EMS instructor, certified fire investigator and Chicago Blackhawks fan.