Had to ask the tough question last week: Would I rather get into a fender bender at a traffic light because I was typing “c u soon” on my iPhone or because I was ogling a pretty member of the opposite sex? What would let me sleep better? Would I be more comfortable knowing the crash was caused by my need to type or my need to look?
The question arose after the British insurance company Direct Line released the results of a survey of 2,142 U.K. drivers. The survey found that accidents increased during warmer months, when people wear fewer and more revealing clothes, and that “60 per cent of men admitted being distracted by attractive women while 12 per cent of women said they took their eyes off the road to leer at good looking men. And 21 per cent of drivers also admitted that advertising billboards featuring images of picture-perfect models were also a major distraction on the road.”
Even thought they knew the risks, 17 per cent of the men said they “could not help but look.”
In other words, we know it’s wrong but we do it anyway. We just can’t help it.
Sex. It’s the world’s oldest distraction.
There was a time, back in the 1920s, when good-looking people were pretty much the only distraction a person had while driving. You threw on your boater hat and raccoon coat, hopped in your motor and drove. If you saw someone you found attractive, you looked. If they looked back you pulled over and then you both went out to do the Charleston (bathtub gin not included).
Our automotive distractions have multiplied ever since: first car radios, then eight-tracks, tape decks, and in-car phones but the worst distractions are the modern mobile kind. The things we carry. We get in our cars – our phones stuffed with apps, and we’re so busy distracting ourselves we barely have time to drive. We all know the risks and how foolish and pointless it is and yet, despite all the laws and warnings against it, we can’t help ourselves.
The ogling statistics got me thinking. We’re at war with our distractions. We’re not winning. Perhaps we should studying the ogling phenomenon, not because we want to stop it, but because we want to find out what we’re doing right.
Here’s the strange truth: Unlike texting and talking while driving, we’re good at ogling and driving. We’re experts. As Malcolm Gladwell might say, we’ve had our 10,000 hours. We’ve practised. Here I should note the difference between ogling, which might be described as stealing surreptitious glances and catcalling, which is voicing one’s attention in a lascivious manner. (I’ve avoided being the object of both activities by remaining physically unattractive to both sexes.)
For many of us who came of age before the Internet, half the reason we got a driver’s license was so we could drive around and ogle. In my group of friends, we had a guy with a car and a guy who somehow knew where all the parties were. We’d get reports of where girls were and then we’d get in the car and go to those places.
They may as well have put questions about proper ogling technique on the 365 learner’s permit exam:
1) What’s the best way to drive by and stare a beautiful woman who would never have anything to do with you?
a) Reflective sunglasses.
b) The swivel. You turn your head in her direction a full 180 as if you’re looking for something in the back seat. On the way back, you throw in a shrug that says, “Oh, I guess it isn’t there” just to sell it.
c) The “Amazing Reveen.” With a blank expression on your face, stare in her direction as if you are looking into the distance. Now just believe.
d) Peripheral vision.
Life is distracting. In a car, those distractions can kill but I’ll wager that people who ogle get into far fewer serious accidents than those who text or talk on their phones while driving. That’s because the perverts (read: people) stealing lascivious glances know when to do it. You don’t drink in the picture of perfection on a highway going 120 km/h – you do it in stop-and-go traffic going 20 km/h. You take the risk at low speed with extra reaction time. Ogling is a lazy, easy-going pursuit.
It’s not just motorists who are adroit and compulsive oglers. Cyclists are right up there. They can’t ogle pedestrians as often because they might fall prey to the oldest slapstick trope of them all (distracted cyclist crashes into something). Cycling, however, allows an ogler to scope the landscape. He or she rides along in the bike lane until they are behind a cyclist they find attractive. Then the ogler can just peddle happily behind the object of their affection. Next time you pass a line while commuting take a look over – you’ll see them, each rider mesmerized by the beauty that bikes before them.
I suppose I’m trying to encourage harm reduction. Ideally, we remain totally focused and suffer no distraction. That’s the goal. But, errare est humanum. To err is human. Weak mortals, if you must be distracted, I beseech you to put down your iPhone and your BlackBerry. Look up and put on your sunglasses instead.
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy