I have a confession to make.
I am scared to drive.
Ok, maybe scared is too strong a word; nervous, anxious, jittery uptight, work better. Why? Have I been in a horrible accident? Do I have a ton of tickets? Expired license? A warrant for my arrest? No, none of those things. I'm just worried I’ll be pulled over for distracted driving, or speeding, phone use, something, anything!
Do I have a reason? No.
I have only been pulled over 3 times in the 17 odd years that I have been driving. However that third time my kids were in the car. My 4 year old son doesn't yet understand "gray" areas. Everything is black and white, good and bad. So for weeks I had to explain that Mommy wasn't a "bad" driver and I wasn't going to jail, Daddy just hadn't renewed the license plates!
I used to consider myself a decent driver. For a girl, I knew a lot of the technical stuff that goes on under the hood, mostly because I always drove cars that required the knowledge. I learned how to drive stick in just two easy lessons from my hubby. I also had an odd memory for remembering things from my class- like how you need to accelerate out of a curve, not going into it. Then I had children, and it has really affected my driving.
If the sleep deprivation didn't make me a bad driver then the pure distraction surely did. Kids whine and talk and need things. They drop their cup, they want a snack, the sun is in their eyes. For 3 years I managed just fine. I lived in an urban area and we could go a week at a time without ever getting in a car.
No more. One of the biggest adjustments I had to make when we moved to suburbia is the amount of time I spend in the car. I’m in that car a minimum of 30 minutes a day driving kids back and forth to school. I also had to adjust to very different driving habits. In my area I have two lane country roads, divided highways, city streets, everything and anything. Heck, just going to Target my speed limit varies from 25 to 55.
When we first moved out here I had a really hard time adjusting to the higher speed limits and the divided highways. It didn't help that I was always lost. Trying to find an address when you are going 45-55 miles an hour isn’t easy! There also is no grid system out here. I had to learn to follow route signs instead of street signs and learn that I could be on 94W going North; very confusing! My driving anxiety really started to develop. I was always having to turn around, slow down, change lanes at the last minute when I realized the road I thought I was staying on was actually turning. It made me an even more anxious and dare I say bad driver!
Then January first hit. Do you know how many driving laws changed on January first? No texting while driving, no use of hand held phones in school zones and no use of phones, wireless or not in construction zones. On March 15 Evanston became one more city to ban the use of cell phones at all when driving unless they are hands free. The problem? Every city has different rules. If you are in Evanston, Chicago or Winnetka you can't be on your phone unless you are using a headset, but in other cities you can. Unless you are in a school zone or a construction zone then you can't. But what if I'm parked? If my car is running but I am sitting in the pick up lane at school is that considered a violation? Can I call hubby to make arrangements for dinner or do I need to get out of my car? In one interview even the officials who are ticketing people weren't sure. One school district commented that they are having a hard time helping parents because each jurisdiction would handle it differently “We have been told by one jurisdiction that a parent would not be ticketed who is sitting in a parked car (waiting in line), but told by another that it would depend on the circumstances,” Jeff Arnett, district 220 spokesperson said (Chicago Tribune February 17). If the police don't know the rules how on earth am I supposed to keep them all straight?
The easy answer is to take the Oprah approach and lock the phone in my trunk. But that only solves one of my anxieties. What about distracted driving with two toddlers? I am so nervous driving that every time I see a police car, I get a mild anxiety attack. I check, and double check my speed, the seat-belt, obsessively and look in the mirror to see if he’s following. I fear every single time that they are going to pull me over. I was taking a drink from a bottle when I saw a cop pull up and I quickly dropped my drink and started checking everything to make sure I was obeying all the laws and slowly pulled away only to notice it was a Metra police officer. Can they even write me a ticket?
Don't get me wrong, I think all these laws are generally good, I just think it would be easier on drivers if they were consistent across the state. I drive through 3 towns to get to Target. While writing the post I spent a lot of time trying to find a comprehensive list or even just city by city to see what the rules were and found it near impossible.
Maybe this is just deep-seated anxiety rooted in my being a goody two shoes, and never wanting to break the rules. Or maybe my insides are telling me I am a bad driver. I don't know. But what I do know is that if Illinois ever passes a law saying that you can't drive distracted, I will clearly need to stop driving all together!
This post was originally published on Chicago Moms Blog on March 30, 2010.