Stop me if you&rsqou;ve heard this one…

By David Tanner
Staff writer


"Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind. Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?"

If your senses are becoming increasingly overloaded, perhaps it’s time to adopt this 1971 hit by the Five Man Electrical Band as your ringtone. Just don’t answer any calls or text messages while driving.

The feds are trying to tackle the issue of distracted driving with an emphasis on text messaging. While it is a noble cause, the point must be raised that driver distraction and sensory overload didn’t start with text messaging and won’t end there.

Just about anything can distract a driver: food, music, conversations, pets, papers, Qualcomm, etc. And that’s just inside the vehicle.

Outside, we have billboards, traffic signs and signals, detours, construction barrels, tollbooths, lane restrictions, speed zones, other drivers, and the list goes on.

Can’t you read the sign? Or have you rolled past a million of them and glossed over one that you needed to see?

A case in point is the Pawtucket River Bridge, part of I-95 through northeast Rhode Island.

The state says it’s well marked, and maybe it is, but law enforcement has still busted 15,500 trucks and generated $4 million in fines since November 2007.

Could sensory overload be to blame?

Good drivers can handle a great deal behind the wheel. We routinely talk to truckers with millions of safe miles, and that is reassuring. But nobody is immune to the dangers of distraction. You may be the best driver in the world, but it means nothing if a distracted driver cuts you off.

To err is human, but we are all accountable for our actions. Does this mean we need laws to tell us what we can and can’t do behind the wheel? Where does driver training and respect for the road fit into this?

As our world gets smaller, our free time shorter, and our field of vision more cluttered by signs and distractions, perhaps we could all be a bit more careful. Then we wouldn’t need lawmakers legislating behavior.

(Note: This was not, I repeat not, written on or posted from my BlackBerry).