Staying on the road is tough when sending text

In case you haven’t figured it out, sending text messages while driving is dangerous. It’s highly inadvisable, though it’s still legal in all states except in Washington. For now.

It took a study by Clemson University’s psychology department to put something tangible on just how risky the practice is. Like, how well a driver can stay in his own lane while sending messages.

To the uninitiated, this thing called “texting” (besides being an indicator of where our language is headed while seated in the handbasket) is the practice of using a cell phone to send short text messages. Since most cell phones have 12 keys to represent the 26 letters, all the numerals, punctuation, and upper/lower case, that’s a lot of tap-tapping to get a message out. Unless you take your chances with predictive text, it takes four strokes of the 7 key to get a lowercase “s,” and much head-scratching (using the other, non-texting hand) to figure all this crap out. While sending text notes can be handy, I can’t think of a more inefficient, less intuitive way to send a message.

It’s a little easier using predictive text, but you’re letting the phone do the thinking for you and often you have to cycle through several word choices — which means watching the screen.

There’s an art to proper texting (besides the knowledge that you have just changed a noun into a verb, pushing our civilization deeper into some abyss), and it’s a skill that few over the age of 35 seem to have. I’m 50, and I certainly don’t have that skill. I also never learned to type with my thumbs; I’m a 10-fingers kind of guy. A young (27-year-old) friend taught me the basics of sending instant messages by computer, and while I’m good enough at it to add it to my resume, I’d rather send an email any old day. Even the email took some training; I’m not that far4 removed from using a quill and foolscap.

This “texting” (did I mention how much I despise that non-word?) has also done a number on how we spell and write words. That great quote from Hamlet becomes “2B or not 2B.” Ugh. Even in my infrequent forays into instant messaging, I prefer plain English and try not to waste my time with folks who don’t have that simple request figured out. None of this LOL, or ROFL (which sounds like someone at the porcelain altar on New Year’s Day) for me. I don’t give a damn whether YMMV, OTOH, I’m too old and set in my ways to RTFM for a translation.

This text messaging doesn’t do much for driving, either, which is really something we already knew. But according to the Clemson study, which was done in a driving simulator, a person sending or receiving text messages has at least some of his car drift out of his lane 10 percent of the time.

Now that’s something a person can visualize. It puts some meat on what would ordinarily be a bunch of dry statistics. Already you can see the ramifications. A little lane drift, anywhere, what happens? Usually a lot of blaring horns behind (and sometimes in front of) you, more than a few extended middle (non-texting) fingers, maybe a view of a gun muzzle if you’re on an L.A. freeway, and the chance of some panicky overcorrecting — which does nothing but make the public highway even more of an insane asylum than it already is.

By comparison, running an mp3 music player pulled test drivers out of their lanes five percent of the time, while yakking on a cell phone apeared to make no difference in how well a driver stays on the road — according to the study. In real life, cell phone talking may turn an otherwise intelligent driver into a moron, so Clemson’s findings were a surprise there.

I did try sending text messages while driving. Once. This was on my way to North Carolina for my brother’s wedding. I drove up from Charleston and wanted to let all hands know my progress on the trip up. Too early in the morning to call, so I sent the text. A frightening experience, especially having to remove my glasses so I could see the screen. Fortunately there was no traffic, so no one saw me use every lane on the road and a few that weren’t there.

OK, most cell phones have preset text messages, called templates. Boilerplate messages such as “yes,” “no,” “call me,” “need directions,” “thank you,” and “I love you.” (Boy, texting depersonalizes a lot, doesn’t it?) Allegedly it’s easier and a whole lot safer to use a preset message than punch out a text note from scratch. To use a preset on my LG phone, I:

– Go to message menu.
– Hit “new message.”
– Put in the phone number of whoever I’m sending the message to, or grabbing it from the directory.
– Hit “select,” then “done.”
– Then hit “OK.”
– Go to the “options” menu.
– Hit “add,” then “templates.”
– Scroll through the preset messages. They came programmed into the phone, and you can also add your own. Select the preset message you want, and hit “OK.”
– Then hit “send.”

See? Nothing to it. You should be able to do this from behind the wheel, at 65 mph, without looking at the phone.

On second thought, it’ll just be a lot easier to have the nice highway patrolman send the text message for you — after he’s done fishing you and your vehicle from the shrubbery.

Author: Eric Pulsifer

Eric Pulsifer is a veteran wordsmith with experience as a journalist, editor, musician, and freelance writer.

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