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Personally Responsible or Selfish?

Fighting Distracted Driving

By Gene Benson

A big part of being better is having a large share of personal responsibility. But what is personal responsibility? We hear the term used in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, we often hear it in reference to other individuals or to groups, implying that the speaker has personal responsibility but that others are somehow lacking.

For our discussion here, we will simply define personal responsibility as choosing to do the right thing and accepting the consequences of our actions.

We all need to ask ourselves three questions. First, do we want to have personal responsibility? Second, do we want others to perceive us as having personal responsibility? And third, are we willing take a stand in support of what is right? Most people will quickly answer the first two questions in the affirmative. But the answer to the third question is not as easy. Some will say that it depends on the situation and the possible consequences. That is an honest and reasonable response because circumstances vary. We must not use that caveat as an easy out to avoid taking a stand for what is right even when it is unpopular.

Yes, I am going somewhere with this. Who is willing to take personal responsibility to avoid causing grief, suffering, and hardship for their families and for others? Oh good. Everybody’s hand is up. Then here is what everybody needs to do. Let’s take a stand to help reduce distracted driving. How? Simply refuse to talk on the phone while driving. No, using a hands-free device or the vehicles Bluetooth connection does not provide an exception. According to the National Safety Council, hands-free devices offer no safety benefit when driving and hands-free devices do not eliminate cognitive distraction. A white paper published by the National Safety Council in 2012 goes on to explain, “A driver’s response to sudden hazards, such as another driver’s behavior, weather conditions, work zones, animals or objects in the roadway, often is the critical factor between a crash and a nearcrash. When the brain is experiencing an increased workload, information processing slows, and a driver is much less likely to respond to unexpected hazards in time to avoid a crash.” Click here to download the NSC White Paper.

We have known this for several years, yet people still engage in phone calls while driving. Even worse, is the fact that many companies encourage their employees to participate in business or conference calls while driving. This kind of call consumes even more cognitive power than a casual call with a friend.

Here is where we get back to personal responsibility. We must refuse to talk on the phone while driving. Here is where it gets more difficult. Everyone must take a stand if their employer expects them to be on the phone while driving. That might be unpopular, but it is the right thing to do. Right now, some people are mentally finding arguments as to why it is necessary to talk on the phone while driving. Excuses will include not having enough time to get everything done without conducting business, personal and otherwise, while driving. Now that the dangers of driving while phoning are widely known and well documented, engaging in the activity is knowingly putting ourselves and others at risk. The enemy of personal responsibility is selfishness. Endangering others by our actions is selfish. Are we personally responsible individuals or are we selfish?

If anyone needs a refresher on how to be effectively assertive, click here for a YouTube video on the subject. One of the elements is stating possible consequences. A powerful example of a consequence that can be understood by anyone in management is a recent lawsuit. In May 2019, a jury in Corpus Christi, Texas awarded $21 million in damages to a woman who was struck by a Coca-Cola driver who had been talking on her cell phone at the time of the accident. The plaintiff’s attorneys were able to successfully argue that Coca-Cola’s cell phone policy for its drivers was “vague and ambiguous.” They also suggested that Coca-Cola was aware of the dangers but “withheld this information from its employee driver,” which led directly to the circumstances that caused the accident.

Another element of how to be effectively assertive is to offer a suggestion of what should be done to alleviate the problem. Offer to help draft a company policy regarding distracted driving. It is in the best interest of everyone and might just save the company $21 million by avoiding an accident.

Here is the simple challenge to demonstrate personal responsibility. Refuse to conduct a phone call while driving and encourage others to do the same. Why not demonstrate personal responsibility and leadership at the same time.

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