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About actions, not distractions

By Mark Isaiah David

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With the outrageous, soul-crushing traffic that Filipinos in various cities have to endure every single day, we’ve developed our own ways of coping while we are all stuck in cars going nowhere.

Most check their social media pages and get updated with whatever is happening in the world. Some play games on their smartphones (insta-hatching that 10km Pokémon Go egg) to pass the time. Others would load their favorite TV programs in their tablets and watch while navigating the maddeningly bumper-to-bumper traffic.Any honest driver would admit that it could compromise safety; but given the reality that you waste precious hours just waiting for your car to move an inch, we all just shrug and do it.

The Anti-Distracted Driving Act (ADDA), which (according to various reports) will be implemented soon, will change all that. ADDA aims to safeguard the public “from the ruinous and extremely injurious effects of vehicular accidents.” The law will do this by prohibiting the use of mobile devices (your phones, tablets, portable game consoles, even calculators) as a means of communication either through texts or calls, and the use of electronic gadgets for playing games, Internet browsing, and watching movies while driving a motor vehicle.f

If you plan to be pig-headed and keep Facebook-ing while driving, prepare to be hit with some painful fines. First offenders will have to pay P5,000, P10,000 if you do it again, and P15,000 plus a three-month suspension of your driver’s license when caught for the third time. And if somehow you haven’t learned your lesson by then, a fine of P20,000 and revocation of driver’s license for succeeding offenses is in your future.

My initial reaction upon hearing about this law is irritation – the legislature aims to mitigate the risks of one problem (vehicular accidents) but does nothing to address the cause of why we do the act in the first place (unconscionable traffic).

But this (unrighteous) anger was quickly doused by too many memories of cold sweat-inducing close calls while I’m on the road because of drivers obviously doing something inane with their phones. And if I were being honest, I would admit that I was also a hazard on the road while I dedicated my peripheral vision re-watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer episodes while I drove my car. No matter how good a driver you fancy yourself to be, driving distracted is irresponsible – your life and the life of others are on the line.

Since traffic won’t ease up soon and we can no longer turn to our smartphones to save our sanity, here are a few tips on what you can do to amuse yourself while traversing the PH roads:

1. SING!

Turn the radio on and just let it go. Rock it out, belt it, sing out your soul. We Filipinos love to sing, and since you’re in your own car, there’s no need to be shy. Be expressive and give the people in cars around you a good show – goodness knows we all need a good laugh while we suffer on the road. If you have passengers, then it’s all the more enjoyable. Pick out some great duets, make cool thematic playlists, hold some singing contests if you want. Don’t let the traffic dampen your unconquerable soul.

Since you’ll end up practicing daily, expect to level up your videoke prowess that you’ll finally get to unleash on the next office party. Who knows – the next The Voice champion might emerge from the daily 3-hour Philippine traffic. An if-life-gives-you-lemons story makes a compelling TV show, after all.

2. BOOK IT

If music isn’t your thing, give audiobooks a try. Audiobooks are the fastest growing segment in publishing and estimates place the global audiobook industry at around $2.8 billion (goodreader.com). In a world where digital piracy continues unabated despite the stringiest measures, audiobook sales continue to increase impressively – tallying a 43% growth in August 2015 compared to previous year.

If you’re eyeing a popular title but find yourself without enough ‘me time’ to sit down and actually read, an audiobook is the perfect solution to your dilemma. You still get to ‘read’ the books you want, you end up improving your listening skills (a useful, albeit underrated ability), and your daily travel time won’t be a waste.

3. PLAN YOUR DAY

You’re incredibly busy, and a thousand and one things demand your attention. Why not use the (forced) downtime by helping your brain organize its thoughts? On your drive home, go through what happened in the day and evaluate – did you forget to do something that needed to be done? What can you improve on? Are there things you should prioritize tomorrow to make things easier? A good day starts with the preparation done the night before. So go through your to-dos, ideas, and notes while driving home. Not only can this help you be more organized, doing a mental list can help train your memory. If you find yourself still forgetting, dust off that reliable tape recorder and record your notes. You can leave it on when you start driving so you don’t have to mind it and just start talking. You can always record over old files so there’s no need to be stingy. Tapes can be bought cheaply on various stores (including book stores).

4. GAME ON

If you’re fortunate to have passengers, it’s time to revive a classic – car games! Hearken back to the days before portable phones – when milkshakes with two straws were the drink of choice for dates, when you can still cram popular hits to a single jukebox, and when roads were not as cramped as they are today. Group games foster camaraderie, they’re an excellent way to pass the miles, and are just plain fun. Do a quick google search for car games and enjoy.

If you drive alone, gamification is for you. Defined as the application of game mechanics and game design techniques to engage and motivate people to do tasks, gamification can turn your lonely drive to achievement farming. Can you find other routes that will cut your travel time? Can you adjust your driving to consume less fuel? If you start with 100 points and each use of your car’s brake will cost you a point, can you reach home without going below 50? There are numerous ways to make your drive more interesting through gamification. By tapping into the basic desires revolving around the concept of Status and Achievements, solo driving can still be a fun game time for you.

5. DO NOTHING

This might be easier for men than for women because men have their ‘nothing box’ – but I’d love the downtime doing nothing. Let your mind unwind and allow your subconscious to work on the day’s knots. Lord knows you need it after the million things you’re minding.

Go ahead and daydream – it’s an important element of creativity. I can’t even count the number of times I’m thinking of one thing and then a random thought suddenly pops into my head about something else entirely that will be a pivotal point in an article I’d write. Be silly and let your thoughts pursue the improbable. What if continued exposure to songs modify physical appearance – like how sunlight changes your skin color? What if the Katipuneros had steampunk technology to fight the Spaniards? What if children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are the genetic superiors on a future where hyperwars are decided within nanoseconds? What if that girl you were always too shy to talk to was only waiting for you to make a move?

Zone out. Let your thoughts go where they will. It’s good for you.

6. MAKE GOOD ART

If we were to be honest, the horrendous traffic in the Philippines is a daily tragedy. So in this case, it would not be overly dramatic if we paraphrase one of the greatest commencement addresses of all time from the rockstar author Neil Gaiman – “Make Good Art.”

‘When traffic gets tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. You’re already late and the MMDA makes an unannounced rerouting scheme? – make good art. You wake up extra early to make your flight and the road to NAIA is gridlocked? – make good art. Buses and jeepney rampaging on the road without regard for other vehicles? – make good art. Some idiot thinks he’s more important than everyone and decides to counterflow? – make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days too.’

It doesn’t have to be good. Craft a funny limerick or a heartfelt poem about trying not to piss your pants while you’re stuck in the car. Work on the plot of your novel or iron out that troublesome scene in your screenplay. Think of what funny memes you can do once you get to the office, or polish that 140-character tweet you’ll send once you’re parked. It doesn’t need to be good – it only needs to be you. Rage, rage against the dying of the light by making good art.

7. TALK IT OUT

Busy as we all are with our lives, the long travel time can be a wonderful opportunity to get in touch with relatives you haven’t seen in a long time or even old friends you miss. The Anti-Distracted Driving Act allows for phone calls if you have hands-free equipment, so go ahead and take advantage of unli-deals by telecom companies to call that favorite aunt or an old crush from high school.

And since this is the days of emojis and Viber messages, a phone call will make a bigger impact to the one you’re calling. Nurture your relationships. Revive that old friendship. Go through your contact list and make at least one call on your long drive and make someone’s day.

The Anti-Distracted Driving Act may be inconvenient for most drivers, but it will certainly contribute to safer roads. So let’s all put down our phones and be better drivers. Reducing the number of accidents, after all, will only make the traffic situation better.