What do you think about while you’re driving?

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I’ve had a driver’s license for a little over 16 years now.  Lately there’s been a lot of talk in the news about “distracted driving,” which is something I find baffling and worrisome.  It’s serious business, controlling an automobile.  I don’t care how long you’ve been driving — barring a call for emergency assistance, there is no good excuse for fiddling around with a mobile phone while trying to keep abreast of traffic signals, road conditions and other critical things.

Phones aren’t the only potential distraction.  There may be a cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich in the compartment next to the driver’s seat, or a couple of kids fighting in the back of the car, or an unkennelled family pet who wants to cozy up on the driver’s lap.  I don’t even like to have the radio on when I drive, unless it’s to get a heads‑up on traffic conditions going through a busy part of town.  Even if you take away all these things, though, one distraction remains:  The chatty part of one’s own mind.

Alone behind the wheel, driving myself from here to there, I noticed the other day that I spend a good portion of the journey thinking about things that have little or nothing to do with driving.  Sometimes I’m talking myself through a to-do list, enumerating where I need to go and in what order and why.  Sometimes I’m rehashing a past event or a conversation; at other times, making plans for a completely different day.

In essence, what has happened is that I’ve taken on a passenger — not a real person who can provide an extra set of eyes and ears to warn me of trouble up ahead, but someone who doesn’t even care that I’m behind the wheel.

It’s embarrassing to catch myself doing this, but it’s a necessary embarrassment.  You have to see a problem before you can start fixing it, and anything that makes me a better, more aware driver is a good thing.

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