President’s Corner – Summer 2016
by Neil Gambony
You’re going to do what?
Hi everyone, hope you all had a wonderful summer and enjoyed some time off with family and friends. Undoubtedly, many of you took to the roads in your BMWs, whether it be heading to the shore, rushing to the airport to catch a flight for vacation, or simply going for a cruise with the top down. By the time this news bulletin reaches you, Labor Day will be in the rearview and we’ll all be starting to focus on the new school year, cooler temps and the oh so ubiquitous pumpkin latte at Starbucks. You know, the hot and savory coffee drink you love to consume while on the way to work. There it sits, safely ensconced in the cup holder of your precious BMW, just waiting to be enjoyed. You can almost taste it right now. But wait, will you be able to indulge in this treat or one like it for much longer?
I was driving home the other day and listening to a call-in show on the radio. The host was talking about a new “Dunkin Donuts law” whereby the police in NJ could pull you over for drinking coffee while driving. Resulting fines of up to $800 could be imposed for multiple offenses. Of course this seems far-fetched, but as law enforcement focuses more and more on revenue generation, it’s really not terribly outside reality. In fact, there is a NJ lawmaker who has proposed a bill on distracted driving that includes “anything which takes your focus from the road or operating the vehicle safely”. That’s a pretty big brush to paint with. The aforementioned “Dunkin Donuts law” seeks to give police the authority to stop anyone they feel is distracted from the road. This could be drinking coffee, changing the radio station, reaching for your sunglasses, or any number of things you do while driving. Despite many of the callers into the radio show screaming that this proposed law is an invasion of their rights, it does bring up an interesting topic. What is distracted driving and how can we curtail it?
Like many of the angry callers to the radio show, I find the coffee law preposterous. I don’t think any rational person believes we should ban coffee or changing the radio station in a car. However, there are things we can change. The NJ Division of Highway Safety states “distracted driving is a dangerous epidemic on New Jersey’s roadways. Driver inattention has been a major contributing factor in nearly 800,000 motor vehicle crashes in the state from 2010 to 2014 and nationwide, 3,179 were killed in distracted driving crashes in 2014 alone.” Think about that for a moment. If the numbers are correct, they are staggering. 800,000 crashes in NJ over a five year period due to distracted driving.
If I were to guess on the major cause of distraction it would be cell phone use. I am continually amazed at how many people are texting, reading email or posting on social media while driving. Recently I made it a point to pay attention as I drove to and from work on how many people I saw either talking on the phone without a hands-free device (illegal in NJ) or looking down at their phones. I did not include those I saw texting or posting while sitting at a light. I am referring to the blatant use of a phone while the vehicle is underway. It was astounding. Without hard numbers I would say half or more of the people I saw were using their handheld devices while driving. HALF. That’s crazy. We have to find a way as drivers to put the phones down and concentrate on the road. Despite what you may think, even glancing down for a second can put your life or the life of those around you in danger. Be honest. How many of you have been rolling along, glanced down for a second, only to look up and see the car in front of you is braking and you have to “panic stop”? Seriously, be honest. I know you have done it at least once. I have. We all have. Maybe you’ve even rear-ended someone. Perhaps it was worse. Do you still look at your phone? It shouldn’t take an accident or near accident for us to realize this is dangerous behavior and it needs to stop.
Let me give you an example. As many of you know the NJ Chapter puts on Teen Street Survival driving schools for young drivers. As part of the exercises, we set up a slalom course of traffic cones. We first have the teens weave through the cones with no distractions. After they have done the course several times we ask them to take out their phones and text someone while negotiation the cone slalom. Without fail they hit most of the cones, drive erratically and don’t have complete control of the vehicle. Remember this is low speed, maybe 25-30 mph and they are hitting cones. Those could be kids in your neighborhood. Imagine as well how much speed magnifies the danger. If you are doing 80 mph on the Parkway at rush hour and texting your spouse about dinner when the car in front of you checks up on the brakes you will be in their trunk before you know what happened. It’s not worth it!
So, what can you do to curtail distracted driving and make the roads safer? First thing is get a hands-free device or enable the Bluetooth in your BMW. Second thing is to put the phone in your glovebox, purse or bag. Taking away the temptation to check Instagram one more time or text your buddy about the Yankee game is paramount. If you can’t reach it you won’t use it. Also important is setting a good example for your kids. They look up to you and emulate what you do. If you talk on the phone and text while driving, they will think it’s ok and do the same. Simply telling them not to do it is not enough. Teens and young drivers are probably the most important group for us to reach as they are most tied to their devices. Good behavior starts early and it starts with you. Please put the phone down. I’m not asking you to give up your latte or Wawa coffee. What I am asking is for you to be cognizant of distractions while driving and to do your best to minimize them. We all know BMWs are very safe cars. Don’t test those safety systems because you had to “LOL” at something on Facebook. Save that for home and put that beautiful bimmer back in the garage without a scratch. Put you at home without a scratch. That’s much more important than the cat meme you just shared. Trust me.
Have a wonderful fall, enjoy the season change and have a great time driving!