EVERY SINGLE DAY, more than 100 car crashes occur in San Antonio. And according to 2020 Texas Department of Transportation data, about HALF of them are the result of distracted driving.
Honestly, San Antonio – there’s room for plenty of improvement, starting with me, a driver on the roads with you.
I groaned when I discovered the device while buckling up: my wife had installed a driving beacon that ties our entire family of drivers into an insurance app to monitor driving behaviors. (With 3 teenage drivers I pay my fair share in premiums, and I welcome any discounts I can get.) And I’ll admit it – I was a faster-than-average driver along HWY 281, and this modification to my car and my driving habits was going to be tough. I may have balked at the new device, but in the months since I have learned a lot about my habits behind the wheel and my fellow commuters.
Picking up the phone while driving to check the time or notifications will set off the app and “ping” your driving record with demerits; so will abruptly stopping or decelerating or suddenly accelerating. The technology relies on cellular and GPS services, plus your vehicle’s own computer info to gather and transmit driving data.
Armed with that knowledge and a hope for lower insurance rates, I took to the streets. Within a month, my speed was within the limits, my phone put away. What the insurance companies do not prepare you for is the intense distrust you may develop as your eyes and ears become attuned to the unsafe drivers within the environment around you.
I have seen, first-hand, some too-close-to-call near-collisions – images imprinted on my mind while driving to and from work: the woman in the Mazda SUV staring at Facebook while behind the wheel, the black truck with the dark-tinted windows that suddenly crossed four lanes of traffic to exit the roadway. You see through the windshield that his face is buried into his cell phone as he travels the exit lane.
Driving at its core is getting from point A to point B. It is not designed to be a chat room or a party on wheels. Car manufacturers are not making it any easier: not only do you carry a smart phone, but the latest vehicles are also equipped with large computer screens and programs to make those phones do their tasks WHILE you drive. The urge to take your eyes off the road is even greater than before with all the gadgetry. Add to it all by using the rear-view mirror to groom or eating a fast-food sandwich behind the wheel you create the trifecta of potential traffic tragedy.
And, sadly, that is what I now see as I sit behind the wheel, every day: one of every two crashes in San Antonio blamed on distracted drivers. I see the road and its occupants oh-so-clearly now, and it is oftentimes scary.
We need to change not only our behaviors as drivers; we need to change the way we approach our daily commutes. Join me by putting away your phone or other distractions and enter the traffic flow with your eyes and ears wide open.
You may just find what’s out there in your field of vision is every bit as interesting as the Tik Tok, Facebook, and Twitter posts you’ve eliminated. And it’ll be safer for you, your passengers, and me and the other drivers sharing the road.
Joe Conger is a Senior Public Information Officer for San Antonio's Public Works Department. He's inflating his bike tires and waiting for the shared use paths to be finished around Hwy 281 so he can catch a VIA bus to work via his bike. If you aren't driving, catch him on Facebook and Twitter, too.