How I Became a Distraction-Free Driver

When it comes to my driving habits, there are two things I’ve known since my teens:

  1. I’m fully aware of my surroundings at all times, and
  2. Other people’s mistakes on the road are far more impactful than mine

Now I can officially add a third to item to that list: “I’m WAY too overconfident.”

It didn’t take much to turn me around. Years of fiddling with my iPod on the highway and steering with my knees while I enjoyed a big, juicy mushroom burger flew out the window in one afternoon.

The Turning Point

In a side parking lot just outside of Rexall Place in Edmonton, AMA Community Services staff set up an obstacle course and invited local bloggers to take the Distracted Driving Challenge. The course featured makeshift parking stalls, a divided street, and a Groat Road-esque winding road, which proved to be a struggle for almost every test driver (present company included).

How to Crush My Confidence in One Afternoon

The drivers were armed with everyday distractions from passing a juice box or granola to the stuffed dog in the child seat in the back to a text message that had to be sent while driving 50 km/h towards an intersection… and the icing on the cake, Flaviu, a co-pilot feeding last-minute instructions on the fly. Luckily, there were some Driver Education folks there to make sure that, while still dangerous, we all had our “responsible” hats on.

“Get up to 50,” Flaviu would say. “And go left now!”

The tires screeched as I took the first corner.

“Okay, put the straw in the juice box and pass it to your kid in the back while you’re changing lanes.”

Child’s play, Flaviu — and I signalled, passed the box to the back, and changed lanes like a pro. Later, I realized that the straw was still in my lap and the thirsty stuffed-toddler-dog would now be throwing a gargantuan fit. Fail.

Parking wasn’t that much of a struggle, but backing up while opening a granola bar resulted in two crushed pylons, and eventually led to me lobbing the crumbling snack into the back seat, yelling “Just EAT IT!”. I later learned that the two pylons represented a puppy and a box of Cookie Crisp cereal — two of my favourite things, unfortunately. Fail.

Conclusion: That “Aha” Moment

The truth is, I had a bit of a realization that day. As much as I’d like to think of myself as a smart (if not always safe) driver, I’m still taking way too many risks. My actions are easy to control. My cell phone can find a home in the glove compartment until I get where I’m going. Food (especially messy food) can be annihilated before I get in the car. And passing items back and forth with my kids in the back seat? Let’s just say that seemed to cause the most mistakes overall.

Seems counterintuitive, when you think about it. Those two kids that sit behind me in the car are the lives I’m trying the most to protect, in the whole world. But every time I pass them a snack to make the drive more enjoyable, I’m actually putting everyone in serious danger.

So, what are you doing behind the wheel?

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I am an Online Content Specialist from Edmonton at the AMA. Am happiest when it is gloriously gloomy outside.