Distracted driving is now a greater killer on the roads than DUI. And the problem doesn’t reside exclusively with smartphone devices and teenagers – there’s far more to it than that. Hear the details as Officer Simeon Yarbrough of the California Highway Patrol joins us for another life-saving informative podcast.
For resources Officer Yarbrough discusses within the podcast go to: https://www.chp.ca.gov/
Recorded February 15, 2018
Officer Yarbrough: Back in the day, DUI used to be the biggest killer of our drivers on the road, well, not any longer. It’s distracted driving. The worst thing I’ve seen is I get there, and the person is deceased. Their phone is on the floorboard. You pick it up, and you can tell they were sending a message because it’s still blinking on…like half of the message is already written out, and they never were able to finish the text. Sometimes it’s something simple like “on my way,” and they never get to finish the rest of the text message, and it’s just the worst thing ever. It’s sad. It’s stuff that can be prevented.
Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility from the automotive capital of these fine United States of America – Southern California. I’m Tom Smith and I am back at the California Highway Patrol South L.A. office here with Officer Simone Yarbrough. This is our second podcast together so thank you, Officer, for joining me again.
Officer Yarbrough: Thanks for having me back, Tom. I appreciate it.
Tom: And today’s topic is distracted driving. Now when we think about distracted driving there’s there’s all kinds of thoughts that come to mind. First and foremost, you have, obviously, people messing with their cell phones when they’re not supposed to be. And I know this is a state by state thing, but here in California, we are not to have our cell phones in our hands when we’re driving around. So when we’re stuck in traffic and when we see that the knucklehead ahead of us is the one holding up everything and the reason why that knucklehead is holding up everything is because he or she is messing with her cell phone and that’s illegal. That’s rather mind numbing. It’s like, okay, citizens arrest, can I do that?
Officer Yarbrough: No you can’t do that, Tom.
Tom: Darnit! Darnit!
Officer Yarbrough: Not for cell phone usage, for other things, yes.
Officer Yarbrough: Cell phone usage, no.
Tom: I have your cell phone number, though, so I’m going to be calling you directly and tipping…that will be my hot tip line.
Officer Yarbrough: We appreciate that. But then you’ll be on your cell phone.
Tom: All right. So distracted driving. Thanks again for joining. What exactly is it in the eyes of the law, both the letter and the spirit?
Officer Yarbrough: So it’s almost anything when you think about it. Everybody thinks a cell phone or texting, but it can be more than that. So when you mess with your navigation system in your car, the kids in the car, are you looking in the back seat, anything that takes your mind and your eyes off the road is distracted driving. You can be drinking coffee, putting on makeup, shaving, eating food. People drive and read the newspaper at the same time.
Tom: Drinking coffee can be considered distracted driving?
Officer Yarbrough: Yes because, again, you have one hand off the wheel, putting the cup up to your mouth, so you’re probably taking your eyes off the road. And if anything happens, you don’t have that other hand free, so it is almost like having a cell phone in your hand because that hand is not free to help you make an evasive move if you need to grab the steering wheel with that other hand.
Tom: Now that’s…I get that, and it totally makes sense. And I thought of the same thing. We’ve had componentry features in our vehicle from AM radios, right, going way back to simple heater and air conditioning controls. Distracted driving, potentially, as well?
Officer Yarbrough: Absolutely. So if you reach and grab your…say you go to change your AC, and you’re clicking up the temperature, and you’re getting it from cold to hot, then that can take you 20 seconds. Your eyes are off the road for that 20 seconds. I mean you might be glancing back up, but anything can happen in an instant so that can possibly be distracted driving. If I’m behind you, you start weaving because you’re messing with your radio or your air conditioning, it’s technically distracted driving. So if you look in the vehicle code, we have things for cell phone and texting, nothing for messing with your AC vent. Can we stop you cite you? Absolutely because you’re still going at a speed that’s unsafe for the existing conditions.
Tom: Now and that brings me to you know vehicles today are so insanely computerized. And you know I lease my car so both my cars are only a couple of years old, very new, and I mean, it’s to the point where you basically have a touch screen computer in front of you that I honestly know probably about 15% of the controls. Right? Only the necessary ones for me to know. But my wife and I, excuse me, my wife and I are constantly switching back and forth cars, so sometimes I’m fidgeting with the computer trying to get to the climate control, whatever, and I’ve realized like, “Hey, you know, my eyes haven’t looked up in far too long.” There again distracted driving, right?
Officer Yarbrough: Absolutely. We talked about that last podcast. If you see something and you recognize something, it takes .75 seconds to just see it and recognize it, another .75 seconds to react. That’s already a second and a half and you haven’t done anything yet. You’ve put your foot on the brake and it’s almost a whole football field if you’re traveling at 55 miles an hour to come to a stop. So whatever stops in front of you at that kind of speed, you’re probably going to hit it.
Tom: So distracted driving can be all kinds of things.
Officer Yarbrough: Correct.
Tom: You can cite for all kinds of things. But what is…? I’m laughing because Officer Yarbrough shared a ridiculous story with me before we turned the mics on. We’re going to get to that story. I’m not sure if that’s going to be his answer to this question. But outside of that one, and we’re going to get there in just a second, have you ever cited somebody for drinking coffee, for anything along those kind of like…that would fall into that?
Officer Yarbrough: No, but eating I have.
Officer Yarbrough: Eating, having a drink in one hand and a hamburger in the other hand, driving with their knee. It’s just totally unsafe. So I cited them for that. But I’ve seen people driving down… I’m driving down the street, I’m behind them or on the side, they don’t see me. They have the sun visor down and they are putting on makeup, and they have that pencil where they’re doing stuff with the eyebrows. If you have to come to a stop with that pencil, it’s going to poke you in your eye. It’s going to be all bad. Have I cited somebody for that? No, but have I pulled them over and tried to educate them on the dangers of that? Absolutely. And again, when you get up to the car, to the window, a lot of people don’t recognize the dangers of what they do or they just don’t make time to do it while they’re in the house so they have no other choices in their mind. My choice is to, how about I wait and take a little break when I get to the office and maybe go inside and fix my makeup or whatever I have to do or shave. I mean you get people shaving with their little electric shavers. You name it, I’ve seen it so…
Tom: On our last podcast I mentioned that every time I see… I grew up in the Midwest and in the Midwest, we watch a lot of TV out there. I’m of the age that the original version of “Chips” was my all time favorite, favorite, favorite TV show. I couldn’t wait for “Chips” to come out every week. I can’t remember when it was, maybe a Wednesday night or something, but I remember an episode of “Chips” that John and Ponch pulled over a guy for use an electric shaver in the rearview mirror.
Officer Yarbrough: It happens more times than you think. You would think, “Ah, people don’t really do this stuff,” but people shave with electric shavers everyday on their way to work so they don’t have to waste time doing it at home. They can get up five minutes later instead of getting up five minutes earlier and taking care of that and leaving the house two minutes earlier than you normally do so you don’t have to rush. So people do it all the time.
Tom: So the craziest, or define it how you will, distracted driving incident that you shared with me. Let’s talk about that.
Officer Yarbrough: So I see people doing social media, and taking pictures of themselves, and posting this stuff all the time, messing with their radios, and the AC controllers, having pets on their laps, shaving. You name it, I’ve seen it. But the craziest thing I’ve ever seen–that I consider the craziest–is somebody driving and breastfeeding at the same time.
Tom: Driving and breastfeeding.
Officer Yarbrough: Yes, a tiny baby maybe three to six months old. I go up to the window, tell the lady my reason for the stop, and she’s not too happy about it, and she acts like it’s not a big deal.
Tom: And what caused you to pull her over?
Officer Yarbrough: Well, she was weaving, so I didn’t know if she was using her phone. I can see something in her hand, but I couldn’t tell exactly what was going on. But after I made a stop, got up there, it was still going on. It’s not like it stopped. She was just parked, so she wasn’t weaving anymore, but she was still breastfeeding.
Tom: And was this…what time of day was it?
Officer Yarbrough: Midday. It was midday.
Tom: Did the thought cross your mind maybe, “Hey this person might have been drinking at lunch or something?”
Officer Yarbrough: Absolutely. Drinking, texting, just not paying attention to the road. It was pretty much all over the place. And how can you pay attention if you’re breastfeeding, you’re checking out your baby, making sure the baby is okay, your eyes are off the road so as dangerous as can be and not to mention that the baby’s not in a car seat. Anything happens, any sudden stop, the baby is probably going to be into the steering wheel, you’re going to be into the steering wheel, the airbag might deploy, all bad for the baby. Nothing good can come out of that.
Tom: Nothing good just setting yourself up for absolute disaster.
Officer Yarbrough: It was the scariest thing. Usually you don’t make stops like that. You don’t let it affect you or make it personal. The fact that she didn’t want to…she didn’t even think about complying until I made her get out and put the baby in the child seat just bugged me.
Tom: And it sounded like it bugged her that you were making her do it.
Officer Yarbrough: Absolutely, it did, but my job is to go out there and educate. So I had to make sure she was educated on it and whether she goes out and does the right thing after that, that’s going to be on her. But that’s a costly citation.
Tom: And that’s crazy because our first podcast that we did together was on child safety seats.
Officer Yarbrough: Yes.
Tom: So it is unbelievable. I’m sure that particular individual is a good person, a good member of the community and probably just like this is the one area where they just choose to be beyond dense.
Officer Yarbrough: I mean quite possibly, quite possibly, Tom, but…
Tom: I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt here.
Officer Yarbrough: Public safety announcement, if you ever need to breastfeed your baby, pull over to the shoulder, pull over next to the curb, put the vehicle in park. Don’t take the baby out of the car seat or if you do take the baby out of the car seat, just get in the back seat with the baby and breastfeed, or pull into a parking lot, somewhere safe. Don’t do it while you’re driving.
Tom: My wife and I went on a road trip recently and and we pulled over at a rest stop. And while my wife was using the restroom, I took our infant…well, she’d already had…I went in the restroom first and she was breastfeeding in the back seat while doing that, and then we switched and I was holding the baby while she went to the restroom. And I actually…the car was still running because it was pretty chilly out, but I actually got into the front seat at first with the baby, and it was just a second and I thought,”You know what? If all of a sudden these airbags decided to malfunction, my baby probably would not survive that.” And that freaked me out. I immediately got out of the car and got into the backseat just to hold him. I mean obviously…
Officer Yarbrough: Smart thinking, very smart thinking. The baby’s neck and spine and back are just not strong enough to absorb that kind of a hit at that point. So that was great thinking, Tom. Always get in the back seat.
Tom: The airbags…it’s an explosive device that triggers airbags, right?
Officer Yarbrough: Absolutely and that’s why they make you turn the airbag off in the case that you only have a two seater and you have to put the child in the front of the child seat, that’s why they have turn the airbag off.
Tom: Okay. So there’s all kinds of distracted driving. Teens, obviously, are a big component of this topic because they’re new, because they’re probably the most addicted to their cell phones and everything going on in there. When you mentioned people taking pictures to post on social media that are driving, that’s like an extra mind blower to me. I’m not a big social media guy to begin with but to think that someone is going to be… Holy cow. Really?
Officer Yarbrough: Well the bad part is it’s not just kids doing it. It’s not just teens doing it. You see adults doing it driving down the street and you’re like, “Come on now, if it’s that important to you, pull over and do it.” I mean I remember back in the day where we didn’t even have cell phones like that, Tom. So if we wanted to take pictures, we had to get our big Polaroid camera out and take pictures so now everything is important, everything needs to be posted in the moment. And you don’t want to get into that situation where you have a collision, somebody gets hurt or worse, and you were texting. We go back and we check your phone or whatever communication device you have, and that’s what you were doing at the time of that incident, that’s manslaughter or worse. It’s not worth it. Your life will never would be the same. That family’s life will never be the same. Don’t let it happen to you.
Tom: And if you’re a parent, don’t let your kids see you doing it at all. Set the right example, right? Don’t even let your kids see you touching your phone.
Officer Yarbrough: No. If your kids see you do it, your kids want to emulate the parents. So if your kids see you doing it, they’ll think it’s okay for them to do it. You can’t tell them not to do one thing and you still do it because they’re watching you.
Tom: They’re going to follow suit. So consequences, first off, let’s talk about your personal experience being out there on the road. What is the–and I hope it’s this woman that was breastfeeding–because you have probably a little bit of discretion as to how hard you want to hit them with tickets and violations, right?
Officer Yarbrough: I do.
Tom: So our main job as a California Highway Patrol officer is to go out there and educate the people. So you want to get them to understand that hey you can’t do this, or you can do this when you’re behind the wheel. That’s 2000, 3000, 4000 pound vehicle. If you’re driving down the street reading a newspaper, then how are you going to pay attention to the road? You can’t be focused on two things like that at one time. You got to focus on the driving. That’s the task at hand. So if you’re behind the wheel 15, 30 minutes, hour, even if your commute is an hour and a half, you should focus on driving for that hour and a half to make sure you get to wherever you’re going to safely. That’s the most important thing. If you get into a collision or something worse, then you’re not even going to make it to your destination. So your job is to focus on driving for that time that you’re behind the wheel.
Tom: And what’s what’s the harshest violations,ticket wise, that you’ve ever…?
Officer Yarbrough: Well when it comes to distracted driving, I’m not sure exactly what the fines are for all distracted driving, but I know the first citation for cell phone usage is just under $200, and it goes up from there. So if you get multiple ones, it goes up every single time. The fine and the court assessment is huge. I mean it’s not even worth it.
Tom: How are CHP officers instructed to watch out for and really manage that element of violators that they’re out there patrolling?
Officer Yarbrough: We’re just encouraged to go out there and enforce the law when it comes to distracted driver because, back in the day, DUI used to be the biggest killer of our drivers on the road, well, not any longer. It’s distracted driving. So even with teens, I think it was over 4000 teens died last year due to distracted driving. That’s too many. Any is too many, but 4000? And half of those were passengers, so they jumped in the car thinking, “Oh, I’m just going go with my friend. We’re driving down the street.” And you know, a teen might start to say, “Hey, you know, what we’re just going down the street,” or, “I’m going to just take you home. I know we’re not supposed to be riding together yet because you’re under graduated driver’s license. But I’m going just jump in the car and we’re just going to take five minutes, and I’m going to take you home.” What the next thing you know maybe they see some of their other friends or they see little boys or little girls and now they out there trying to show off in front of them and that five-minute drive home turns into something else. So don’t let your kids do it. If you know your kid has a graduated driver’s license and is still restricted, don’t let them jump in the car with another teen. Don’t let them drive at night. Don’t let them break the rules.
Tom: So as parents and adults, obviously, the recommendation is just (inaudible). As parents or adults, the recommendation is, obviously, don’t do it. Set a good example.
Officer Yarbrough: Correct.
Tom: If you do do it, you’re going to be hit with $200-ish fine first time around and if you keep it up, they’re just going to get worse.
Officer Yarbrough: It just keeps going up and up. And you don’t want to do it again. When you get in the car, turn your phone off or put your phone in your pocket. All it’s going to do is cause problems.
Tom: Okay, so teens, how do we manage teens that are just getting their license and are a big problem with distracted driving and their phones?
Officer Yarbrough: So as a parent, you just have to establish the rules before they get their driver’s license. “Hey, when you get your license, this is what is going to be. You know you can’t drive and use your cell phone at all. No electronic communication devices under the age of 18. So it’s not handsfree, it’s not no texting, it’s not social media. It’s nothing. So when you drive, when you jump in the car, you can answer my text later. Jump in the car, make sure your phone is off, put your seatbelt on, get behind the wheel, focus on the road, don’t pick up any of your friends. Just focus on driving and get to where you need to get. Once you get there, take off your seatbelt, you turn off your car, now you can check your communication device. But before that, it’s a no go.”
Tom: You know I was just thinking with all the technology we have these days, somebody should come out with something that like the car won’t turn on unless the cell phone is in the trunk…
Officer Yarbrough: That would be nice.
Tom: …for the teenager or something like that, right?
Officer Yarbrough: That would be nice.
Tom: Okay. Well, for adults, teens, anybody and everybody that is looking for more resources on distracted driving, does the CHP offer anything on its website? Anything along the lines of brochures or best practices? .
Officer Yarbrough: Yes, for teens, we have a book called “The Graduated Drivers Licensing Made Simple” and it’s by Impact Teen Drivers. So they can look that one up on chp.ca.gov. Also, we have a book called “Start Smart” for teens and it’s self-explanatory for beginning drivers. And then we have adult distracted driver manuals, too, that can help you out also.
Tom: Okay, Officer Yarbrough, before we wrap this up, I’m sure you’ve come across some unpleasant scenes, some unpleasant situations. Anything come to mind that involved distracted driving that you know could be a notable story to everyone as a wake up call?.
Officer Yarbrough: Yeah, the worst thing I’ve seen is I get there, and the person is deceased. Their phone is on the floorboard. You pick it up, and you can tell they were sending a message because it’s still blinking on…like half of the message is already written out, and they never were able to finish the text. Sometimes it’s something simple like “on my way,” and they never get to finish the rest of the text message, and it’s just the worst thing ever. It’s sad. It’s stuff that can be prevented.
Tom: Well, hopefully, people will hear this and, hopefully, we’ll prevent some with this podcast as well. Officer Yarbrough of the California Highway Patrol South L.A. Office, thank you so much as always.
Officer Yarbrough: No, thank you, Tom. I appreciate it. Any time we can get our word out and get the message out, it’s definitely a big deal, so we appreciate you.
Tom: This is iDriveSoCal. I’m Tom Smith. As always, thanks for listening.