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Top Gear Philippines

I have a confession to make: I text and drive. At face value, that statement doesn't seem to be as scandalous as one that says I drink and drive. After all, almost everyone texts while driving, right? Because while drunk-driving reeks of irresponsibility, text-driving has a whiff of urgency about it: "Oh, I really need to read and reply to this text message right away; there's a problem in the office."

So while drunk-driving cannot have any other excuse than the simple fact the driver is stupid, text-driving can always be justified as an emergency act. And so even as our lawmakers have passed a couple of bills that seek to ban mobile-phone use while driving, most of us just shrug our shoulders and go on with our high-tech lives, thinking it's not as grave an offense as drunk-driving. In fact, many people refuse to even consider the deed marginally wrong.

Texting has become second nature to us such that we've found ways to tailor all the aspects of our lives around it. For instance, we've mastered the art of texting without looking at the phone's keypad, so that we can do so while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. As a matter of fact, I myself have perfected the skill of composing text messages while driving even if my phone has a QWERTY keypad. How desperate is that?

But that is coming to an end now. It's because I just learned something scandalous about text-driving. So scandalous that it's enough to make me drop the habit for good. No, I'm not referring to that recent wire story that reported the study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in the US--which said that texting while driving causes a driver to take his eyes off the road for an average time of 4.6 seconds. Very serious, yes, but I stumbled upon a more revealing piece of information just yesterday.

At a Chevron press conference, one of the company's executives gave a brief talk on road safety. Apparently, one practice that has been rigorously observed by the company in all of its functions is the teaching of a "Safety Moment" lesson. In every gathering, before they proceed to the main agenda, Chevron personnel reflect on a short but practical bit of safety advice. Their safety topic at the presscon was mobile-phone use while driving. Here are the sobering numbers I learned.


At 110 kilometers per hour--which is about the normal speed many of us take when traffic permits us--a drunk driver takes 35 meters more to react to something on the road than someone who's sober. Think about it for just a second: 35 meters. This means that if you were drunk, you would need 115 feet more road space before you could bring the vehicle to a complete stop. Do you have any idea how long 115 feet is? Get 14 men about the height of Kobe Bryant, then make them lie down to form a straight line--or, closer to home, maybe 100 people the size of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. I'm not too confident about that last one; my math is a little rusty.

Within that distance, you could very well hit another car, a lamppost, a blind beggar or a Bayani Fernando billboard. Precisely why your drunk friends are not the best people to drive you home. Next time you drink, think about this study finding.

Now, let's go back to text-driving. It's easy to believe that someone who's "merely" texting is automatically a better driver than someone who's intoxicated. However, according to the safety-minded Chevron executive, at the same speed of 110kph, a driver who's using his mobile phone takes 49 meters more to react to a road object or a split-second incident compared to a driver whose both hands are on the steering wheel and both eyes are fixed firmly on what's ahead.

If you're texting, then, you will require 160 feet more asphalt to regain full control of the vehicle you're driving. Which means you're a far worse driver than a drunk person. Put another way, it also means you're far more likely to maim or kill somebody on the road than a driver with an alcohol-addled brain.

I don't know about you, but this sounds very scandalous to me--especially since many of us treat text-driving so flippantly. The obvious implication of this would be that our roads are in fact teeming with vehicles operated by drivers whose reaction times are handicapped by 49 meters of road distance. Of course, you can argue that just because our roads are always clogged, that 49-meter handicap is virtually nonexistent since we often travel bumper to bumper. But you know that's just your juvenile stubbornness kicking in.

The fact remains that if we truly want to be safe on the road, there are no ifs and buts. The MMDA's paltry P200 fine for driving while using the phone isn't going to stop us from committing the offense if we don't really mean to behave. There's always a way to go around it, not least of which is giving your car a very dark window tint. No amount of Congress bill or MMDA fine will make you break the habit of text-driving if you have no intent to break it in the first place.


What I've just realized is that it shouldn't take a laughable P200 to keep your hands off your mobile phone while driving. That's because your life--or that of the next motorist--is worth so much more than that. Stow away your phone and you have 49 meters of leeway to avoid an accident.

Vernon B. Sarne
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