John Potter Put to the Test: A Distracted Driving Experiment
It's an alarming statistic: over 60 Nevadans were killed in accidents caused by distracted driving over the past 4 years. Today, it accounts for 1-in-10 road fatalities, and that's despite the Handheld Cell phone Ban that went into effect 6 months ago.
Police call it an epidemic. They've tried to get the word out to get drivers off that phone. And that is why we're at the driving course at the Regional Public Safety Training Center. Every single law enforcement group is here: Nevada, Washoe County, Reno…and they all say the same thing: even though it's been 6 months since Nevada's handheld phone ban took effect, calling and texting while driving is not a rare occurrence. They see drivers on handheld phones most every day.
Washoe County Sheriff's Patrol Sgt. Pat Caine is my backseat driver for an experiment. The object: to get through the course of orange cones…to see how distractions really limit driving ability. First, a run through. He gives me a heads up before we take off: "There's going to be a stop sign. There's going to be a lane change..."
It doesn't seem to help. Once the car gets going with me behind the wheel, it's a frustrating battle for attention with iPhone in hand. In the first 15 seconds I stop late at a stop sign and miss a turn. I quickly realize how often my eyes leave the road, even when trying to make a simple phone call.
In the back seat, Sgt. Caine gets frustrated. I'm hearing my wife in one ear and him telling me in the other, "Hard right. You're going to be going the wrong way!" What can happen in the 2 seconds you're not looking at the road is alarming. I lose count of how many times I feel a cone go under a tire.
The short conversation with my wife is over. Sgt. Caine wants me to send a text. I'm trying to figure out why the course turned so difficult. I tell him, "You know what's sad is this is not a difficult course. But with this, it's throwing me way off." More cones thump under the wheel.
Texters take their eyes off the road for an average of 5 seconds. At just 30 miles an hour for 5 seconds, we end all the way across the course! Imagine, traveling all that way in traffic without looking. Sgt. Caine says you can be the greatest driver in the world, but that counts for nothing when you're distracted. In that moment, everything can change.
All told, I don't even get 2 words together on a text. There's too much to avoid. I don't know how people drive while texting. I honestly don't.
Finally, a merciful end. I thank Sgt. Caine for putting up with us, but he gives a rough review. "You made several mistakes out there. You missed a left turn a couple of times, you missed the lane change..."
But he's not surprised. He sees the same exact moves on the road, from drivers on the phone.