Alert! Texting ‘R’ Us

The world is divided into two types of individuals: those who text and the other dozen people on the face of the globe.

Before I developed a Pavlovian response to my text alert tone I didn’t understand just how compelling that little ding is. Now that I am counted among the ranks of those folks with furiously flying thumbs, I realize my friends were right all along. Texting is easy. It is better than email. It is simply the best way to conveniently stay in touch. The person who invented texting deserves a Nobel prize. Well he or she deserves one at least as much as Le Duc Tho did.

So now I have become a cliché as far as texting is concerned. It takes all my willpower not to respond to a text while I’m driving. This from a woman, you understand, who wore out several soap boxes preaching about the very real evils of distracted driving. I, of course, can multitask. It’s those other drivers who swerve all over the road messing with their phones we should worry about.

Which brings me (finally) to my point today. Thanks for hanging in there. The state of Ohio, in an effort to be helpful, has erected large digital signs over Interstate highways to keep us aware of what is happening in the world of travel. Sometimes these signs are helpful. I was once driving south on I-75 ( I know, I know … we should all know better than to drive south on I-75 but sometimes we find ourselves there anyway) when the sign over the road switched from “Time to US Route 35 — 7 minutes” to “Time to US Route 35 — 68 minutes.” This little bit information does two things. It lets us know some driver who wasn’t paying attention has rear-ended the car in front of it. And it causes that immediate unpleasant lurch in your stomach that says “I’m going to be late. Very late.”

At other times, the sign alerts us to missing persons. There are Amber alerts and silver alerts and probably other alerts that don’t have a color assigned to them yet. These alerts involve a three-or four-line description of who is missing and what sort of vehicle they might be in. Reading the sign in and of itself does two things. It lets us know what sort of thing to be on the lookout for. And it takes our eyes off the road. The irony of the safety-conscious state posting information on the interstate that it wants people to be aware of is not lost on me. It’s the process that gives me pause. Because to read the signs, we drivers have to, you know, take our eyes off the road. The intent is for we who are still in motion to read and, one assumes, remember the license plate number of the vehicle in question.

At the risk of being overly pedantic, I would like to delve into the probability of that actually occurring. I have no empiric proof whatsoever to back this up but this is how fast people are driving on that Interstate. They are driving very fast. Very fast indeed. For the sake of argument, let’s say they’re going 75 miles an hour. This is laughable, of course. No one goes 75 unless they wish to be considered standing still. But, as I pointed out, this is just a little experiment with math. At 75 miles an hour, a car will cover 1 1/4 miles in a minute. Assuming there are still 5,280 feet per mile, this converts to a pace of 6.600 feet every 60 seconds or 110 feet per second. I don’t know how your far vision is fairing theses days, but mine certainly isn’t improving. According to Google, the source of all knowledge, the average person reads 200 words per minute with a pretty dismal comprehension rate of 60 percent. Let’s give the state of Ohio the benefit of the doubt on the succinctness scale and say the average alert is 25 words long or what most people are able to read in 1/8 of a minute … 7 1/2 seconds. In 7 1/2 seconds, the car has traveled 825 feet.

All of this assumes the person in the advancing car starts reading the alert far enough back to take in the whole message. It further assumes the person in the advancing car hasn’t him or herself become a casualty by having their eyes off the road for over eight hundred feet. And then there’s that 60 percent comprehension to deal with. It’s a wonder anyone is ever found. Which, by the way, are they?

During the rare times when no one has wrecked or no one has gone missing, the state entertains us with pithy little anecdotes about accident statistics and misuse of the far left lane. The gist of the message is, don’t be over there if you’re going 75.