August 2017

Take the pledge to put down your phone while the wheels are turning

I’m one of those folks who make it a point not text while driving. I wear that decision like a badge of honor, same as recycling plastics and eating less beef so the collective cow population’s gas emissions won’t advance global warming.But a few days back, heading to a lunch date, I clipped my neighbor’s mailbox. I was texting my friend to tell her I was en route. And strapping on my seatbelt. And swiping on some lip gloss. It happened in a split second and there was a loud “thwack.” I climbed out to assess the damage. My car was fine, but the mailbox post rested at an odd angle and its receptacle box hung straight down, broken, swaying like a pendulum.

The sensible side of my brain scolded me to never, ever drive again while looking at my phone. Its evil counterpart overrode the command. You do put a lot of miles on your Chevy, it told me. You need your phone to get through the day’s voice calls, emails, texts and weather alerts. Attempting to upright the mailbox and shove it back into the earth, I instructed both halves of my brain to pipe down.

The mailbox fell limp to the ground. I speared a scribbled note onto its red flag before pulling back on the road, thinking of all the locals who conduct business from their vehicles. Driving to the restaurant, I experienced an “aha” moment and, right then and there, formed a club. It’s called STAY, an acronym for SafeTravels Always, Y’all! The friend I met for lunch pointed out that “stay” is the opposite of get on the road and “go.” But I’m sticking with STAY. Stay connected. Stay safe. Stay on the good side of your neighbors whose mailboxes are in the direct exit path from your home.

Anyone can join STAY. There’s no initiation or membership fee. Simply make a pledge to stop fidgeting with your phone while driving. That’s it. You’ll have immediate approval status. STAY members pilot colorful vehicles of all shapes and sizes. From lost pizza delivery guys and US Census Bureau field agents to pharmaceutical reps and Realtors, we take up temporary residence everywhere and, like migrating birds, we quickly adapt to our surroundings. Our idling vehicles dot the roadways, and if you bother to look, you can spot us everywhere.

Members of STAY email documents, send real estate counteroffers, check opening bell stock quotes, confirm doctor appointments and phone their friends up north to brag about the local temperature. We are individuals who stay connected, even while cruising at 60 miles an hour. But we’ve made a pledge to get off the road before responding to electronic dings and bells and custom ringtones.

Denise Talbert of Sotheby’s International Realty is a prime example. In fact, if STAY was a real thing, she’d be president and CEO. She traverses the entire state of South Carolina representing buyers and sellers. A trustworthy Ford Explorer is her mobile office.

“My Yeti is my best travel companion,” she says, adding that, being a Southerner, she loves her iced tea. In addition, her SUV carries lockboxes, a bag jammed with hundreds of keys, real estate documents, power tools, plat maps, laser measuring devices, rolling measuring devices, USB chargers and an iPad Pro.

“On average, I’m in my car 20 to 30 hours every week,” Talbert says. She will occasionally talk on Bluetooth, but she has a strict rule about emailing or texting. Since her company responds to leads within five minutes of receipt, she’s become an expert at spotting safe havens where she can pull off the road to conduct business. While a wide grassy shoulder works just fine, convenience stores, churches or shopping centers are best. Primo asphalt real estate involves huge trees that provide welcoming pools of shade. And if there’s an attached public restroom, that’s even better. STAY veterans have negotiated deals and even attended mandatory webinars on the side of the road, slurping Big Gulps and swatting away mosquitos.

With the ever-increasing number of digital devices landing in our handbags and man-bags, Horry County Police Department public information officer Krystal Dotson offers a simple reminder to all road warriors.

“People underestimate the true distraction that can happen in just a few seconds,” she says. “If you’re going to drive, then drive.”

And if you’re compelled to multitask, she says, there’s an app for that. Several smartphone applications will intercept calls and texts and send an immediate reply which notifies the caller that you’re driving and will respond shortly.

The good news is that you can join STAY right now. Simply make an oral declaration. State that you will keep your hands on the steering wheel—and not a digital device—when the tires are turning. And yes, that does include going in and out of your neighborhood. STAY just makes good sense. And it may save you from having to purchase a $342 mailbox.