Blue freeway blues
October 31, 2010
By Jill Rothenbueler Maher
Parenting has redefined many things in my life and distracted driving is certainly among them. Pre-kid, I couldn’t imagine the stress of piloting while my precious cargo yells at me from the back seat, especially in that nerve-frazzling pitch that goes beyond playground banter directly to a push-Mommy’s-buttons level.
Distracted driving, especially the phone-enabled ilk, will soon get lots of attention because texting while driving becomes illegal in Wisconsin Dec. 1. A ticket will set a driver back a modest $20 to a considerable $400.
Texting is a terrible distraction, but let’s be realistic: kiddie passengers are a big distraction, too.
My buttons were pulsating when, my usual route blocked by construction, I was driving under I-94 attempting to find my way onto it. While I struggled, the soundtrack from the back seat was incessant about the blue freeway, a family nickname for the Marquette Interchange. “Blue freeway, Mommy! Where is the blue freeway? Are we going now on the blue freeway?” “Distraction” isn’t strong enough to capture my mental state while hunting for that freeway onramp. In hindsight, I realize I should have pulled over, which sounds just like the advice for people who feel they need to deal with a phone call or text from behind the wheel.
Sometimes it doesn’t take the back-and-forth of talking to reduce the amount of brain power devoted to driving—just one-way communication. She hasn’t recently, but our daughter used to cry most of the 25-minute drive home to Bay View along I-43 from my parents’ house in New Berlin. We couldn’t do anything to soothe her.
Physical distractions can also take eyes off the road. Parents might twist toward the back seat to pick up a dropped toy, hand back food, or emphasize their instructions (“I really mean it!”) as they mitigate a sibling argument. They might search for and then insert a particular CD with kids’ music, preventing them from noticing quick changes in traffic. Turning away from the road for a child can cause the same accident that looking down at a text message could.
I’m surprised this topic doesn’t get more attention. Many parents and caretakers are in the car every day with children for day care, school, or other activities. The potential danger isn’t idle worry: crashes are the leading cause of death in children ages 2 to 14.
I receive lots of warnings about putting our daughter in a properly installed car seat, and Oprah has good warnings about typing and talking while driving; but driving with kids is a less common topic. I found some tips on the Consumer Reports website. Two boil down to being firm about the child’s behavior in the car (“Make them wait” and “Set the ground rules”).
Our daughter understands fairly well that crosswalks and parking lots are “no goofing around” zones, and I think I need to establish more of that tone in the car. Of course, the time spent in a vehicle is much longer.
Sometimes I take city streets to the western suburbs instead of the freeway because I figure the lower speed is safer. If we are nailed by a distracted driver, or hit for any reason, I think the damage is likely to be less because we’re at slower speeds.
I also think about ways to minimize our likelihood of being in an accident by limiting our time in a vehicle. Bay View’s density puts us close to routine errand destinations, and we plan to send our daughter to a school that won’t put her in a vehicle for very long, if at all.
As we head into the holiday travel season and are treated to snowy roads, let’s all drive safely.
The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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