Each Christmas season, I get my annual car insurance premium bill for the next year. Within moments, I go from Happy Holidays to Bah Humbug.
My family has been quite fortunate (yes, I’m knocking on wood). Even with two sons who have taken the wheel as teens and twenty-somethings, we have had no speeding tickets or responsibility for accidents in many years. Insurance companies should like us. We send them a lot of money, and because we are cautious drivers, they get to keep it.
So why do they raise our rates each year, usually by ten percent or more? I can assure you, that like most folks, I don’t get that kind of salary increase each year.
The answer, in two words: distracted driving. Your rates, and mine are going up each year because of smart phones, and not-so-smart people. If you’re looking for a solid investment, I would recommend auto body shops. Business is booming for your local bumper and fender guys.
One body shop owner I know is so overwhelmed, he asked me to use this forum to slow things down. “I’ve got more than I can handle,” he told me. “Don’t get me wrong, I like steady work, but people are getting killed out there.”
Think about this. The vehicles we drive are safer than ever. The commercials remind us of all the new features that are designed to keep us from running into someone else, and other features that will protect us if we do. Today, most people buckle up. Decades ago, none of us did. Yet according to the National Safety Council, during the past two years the number of people killed in motor vehicle collisions jumped from a little over 35,000 to more than 40,000.
This is why insurance companies answer those who complain about rate increases by saying, “It’s not necessarily your fault. But other drivers in your zip code are wrecking their cars, and someone’s got to pay for it.”
An insurance agent told me, “Some states, like Georgia, have clamped down on distracted driving, passing a law that is saving lives. I wish more states would get on board.”
Georgia has defined distracted driving as talking hands-free on a cell phone, holding a phone, texting, and checking the radio, but that is just the beginning.
One police officer admitted he has to scold his wife when they’re on a trip together. “I’m sitting there trying to drive, and she’ll shove the phone in front of me, trying to show me what somebody posted on Instagram. If I look at that for one second, suddenly I’ve rear-ended somebody. And that happens all the time.”
The insurance agent agrees. She said, “This is what has changed in the smartphone era. People are barreling into another car at full speed. It has happened to me, it has happened to my son. It can be from the rear, or they can t-bone you at an intersection. They clearly had no idea what was in front of them, because they didn’t even try to slow down.”
The officer said, “What I’m about to tell you would be funny if weren’t so sad. I’ve seen drivers putting on makeup, eating and drinking with no hands on the wheel, taking a selfie, putting in their contacts, flossing their teeth, putting on a makeup, reading a book, putting on a costume, doing everything but driving. And I’m not talking about sitting at a stop light, these people are going full speed.”
The good news is, police are pulling them over. As for the excuses, well, let’s just say you can’t make this stuff up.
“Here’s the weirdest one I’ve had lately,” the officer said. “I’m in an unmarked car, and I can tell this woman is all over her phone, it is right in front of her face. It’s all she’s looking at. I pull her over. She asked me what was wrong. I told her I saw her texting. She firmly denied it. She told me she just was watching a video on Facebook, like that was okay. I asked her why, and she said it was a cooking video. She said she was using her ‘down time’ to get a recipe.”
Despite all the public service announcements, the clever signs on the highway, and the catchy slogans, too many of us say, “It can’t happen to me. I can multi-task. It’s those other knuckleheads who aren’t able to pay attention.”
The numbers prove otherwise. It is happening to me, and to you. Step One is doing the right thing yourself, being a good role model for your younger passengers. Step Two is making sure your kids and grandkids understand the dangers of distracted driving. Those higher insurance rates are nothing, compared to the ultimate price many grieving families pay each day.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best stories. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.