Hazardous isolation -- Gazette.Net


For safe travel, don’t be a prisoner of your own devices

When Timothy Leary implored, “Turn on, tune in, drop out” a generation ago, he wasn’t talking about iPods, smartphones and ear buds.

But here we are, in a time of increasing technologically driven isolation, and the mantra fits.

People walk around in their normal time and space, but with their minds and attention elsewhere.

When we lost the umbilical cord of the rotary phone, we became free to socialize and carry on business talks wherever we went — and thus grew the phenomenon of Constant Connection.

But we can’t blame Apple or AT&T or Nokia for creating a distracted culture. Walk-around entertainment was well established before that. The Sony Walkman was born in 1979.

A tragic tale of fatal distraction — the death of Gwendolyn Ward’s 15-year-old daughter, Christina Morris-Ward — made us stop and think.

On Oct. 31, 2012, Tina, as she was known, was on her way to Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, where she was a sophomore.

She was doing what many people do. As Tina walked that dark morning, she was wearing headphones and looking down at her cellphone.

She wore dark clothes as she crossed eight-lane Md. 118.

A few blocks from the school, a car traveling legally under a green light struck her.

Sad but determined, Gwendolyn Ward is doing her utmost to prevent similar heart-wrenching, avoidable deaths. She’s working with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation and Safe Kids Worldwide.

She also spoke recently before local officials from Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia as the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board kicked off a Street Smart campaign.

It’s a series of common-sense tips: for driving (be alert when passing stopped vehicles), for walking (look left, right, left before crossing) and for biking (ride with traffic, at least a car door away from parked vehicles).

But for safety, so much hinges on awareness of and connection to the human and mechanical forces around us.

Motor vehicles are large, powerful, potentially destructive forces. Whether you’re operating them or co-existing with them, please use the full extent of your senses while you get around. Know your surroundings, like a police officer would.

Turn off, look around, tune in.