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Ruminations on stoplights and smartphones

During some random thread on Jalopnik this summer, it was pointed out that not only should smartphones not be used while driving, but they shouldn’t be used while stopped at a light either.

It didn’t take long for me to realize the truth behind that statement, and I’ve been thinking a fair bit about it since.


The short answer to why this is true? Awareness.

But of course, I wouldn’t be much of a blogger if I left it at that. Admittedly, the audience here is much savvier than your average driver, but it’s the audience I have and I suspect some of you are fallible like me, and certainly all of you know someone who could use the advice.

Have you done this? I know I have. I’ve been sitting in line, waiting for a green light, checking something on my phone, when cars start moving around me or people start honking at me and I realize I’ve missed the light change.


I glance up, see the green light, and hit the gas.

Bad. Bad. Wrong. Bad.

I’m surrounded by multiple rolling death machines. Thousands of pounds of metal traveling at significant speeds, and I don’t know if one of them is headed directly into the same space into which I’m accelerating.


(Or, if there’s a slow/confused/careless pedestrian about to step into my field of view.)

Entering an intersection without at least glancing both ways at the cross street is an open invitation for an accident. Entering an intersection in a hurry without looking around at all because you’re surprised and embarrassed by the fact that you’re blocking traffic is absolutely the wrong thing to do, but it’s also a very natural response.


But Just Jeepin’, I can hear you think, I never do that. Ok, sure, you’re a better person than me (admittedly, that’s not hard).

So here is my incomplete list of other examples why using a smartphone behind the wheel is a bad idea, even at stoplights. No particular order, although I’ve placed the most selfish one first in hopes you can latch onto it as a good reason to not bury yourself in your phone.

  1. Your dream car/truck/4x4/scooter rolls up beside you, and you don’t see it in time to take a photo/chat with the driver/write down the phone number on the “for sale” sign in the window.
  2. A car nearby has a broken tail light/dangling fuel cap/drink on its roof and you can warn the driver.
  3. A car nearby has noticed that your broken tail light/dangling fuel cap/drink on your roof and the driver is trying to get your attention.
  4. A man in a nearby car is literally punching a woman in the passenger seat, and you could call 911. (Yes, this has happened to me.)
  5. An emergency vehicle is trying to get through the stopped cars behind you, and you need to get out of the way.
  6. An emergency vehicle is approaching the intersection on the cross street, and you need to be ready to give it the right of way on green.
  7. Someone next to you is trying to get your attention so they can change lanes as you start rolling.
  8. Someone is trying to pull into stopped traffic from a gas station, and you could easily let them in.
  9. A child is wandering into the street, and you could save her.
  10. A car is driving past you, after dark, with no headlights, and you could flash yours at it.
  11. A car a short distance in front of you at the stoplight puts on its hazards because it’s stalled, and you could plot a way around it.
  12. A car a short distance in front of you at the stoplight puts on its hazards because it’s stalled, and you could put on yours and try to help.
  13. Idris Elba is driving the car next to you, and you could tell your children about the time you saw Idris Elba driving a car (other than in a F&F franchise spinoff).
  14. The car behind you has been careless enough to stop on railroad tracks at the intersection and now needs to make a fast escape. Might be nice to notice that before it has to ram you.
  15. The 80-year-old driver next to you has unfolded a map and is clearly utterly baffled, and you could offer advice.
  16. The gas station across the street has fuel that’s 30¢ cheaper than anywhere nearby. Win!

I’ve had other now-forgotten examples occur to me as I’ve ruminated on this, while doing my best not to dig my phone out at stoplights. I don’t always win the battle, but it is nonetheless a battle worth fighting.

And I’d wager Idris Elba would agree.

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