By KYLE CLOSE
COVID-19 has ushered in a new normal, and a big part of that new normal is Zoom. Schools across the United States are integrating Zoom into their delivery of learning content, and UMW is no different. Zoom has been great for classes of all sizes and all subject matters for the ease and flexibility it provides students and professors, but some students are taking this increased flexibility a bit too far.
Zoom lends itself pretty well to use while driving. With the Bluetooth and wireless capability most cars have, using Zoom while on the road and behind a wheel isn’t very hard. If someone didn’t have their video on, you most likely wouldn’t be able to know they were driving. This can be appealing for students.
An increasing number of students are driving while in class on Zoom. It appears that students are taking the opportunity Zoom provides to run errands or perform other daily tasks while in class. Over the past month I have noticed two different students driving while in class and on Zoom.
In a Zoom breakout room during class a few weeks ago, several students mentioned that they had noticed students driving while on Zoom in their other classes. After that conversation I started to pay closer attention to students in my classes and noticed a few of them driving. They would turn their camera on only when they were in breakout rooms where the professor couldn’t see them. I have only seen it two times since school started six weeks ago, but it seems like a trend in the making, especially as the holiday season approaches.
Multitasking by itself is dangerous. Using your phone while driving results in distracted driving and distracted learning. Trying to operate a motor vehicle while on your phone and trying to take in the lesson or discussion content puts students and other drivers in a potentially dangerous position. Zoom itself recognized the problem and released a driving feature that allows users to dial into meetings while driving. The feature is known as Safe Driving Mode and is intended to lower the distraction of drivers while keeping them logged into Zoom.
However, this feature is still a distraction. In order to unmute, the driver still needs to press a button on their phone. The feature aims to cut down on some of the risk and make zoom as safe as calling, but even that is dangerous compared to logging on Zoom while not driving. According to the US Department of Transportation Safety, in the United States distracted driving resulted in almost 3,000 deaths in 2017. According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Commission, nine percent of fatal crashes in 2017 were distraction-affected crashes. Distracted driving is real and a constant threat to drivers.
If UMW takes a hard stance against Zoom use while driving it would not be alone. Several state governments expanded laws to promote safer driving habits. Starting in 2021, the use of handheld communication devices while driving a vehicle will be illegal in the state of Virginia. House Bill 874 will expand driving laws in Virginia to further restrict cell phone usage while driving. The way most people log into Zoom while driving is currently legal in the state of Virginia, but this will change starting in the Spring 2021 semester. UMW not only has a moral and ethical responsibility to keep students off the road while in class, but potentially a legal obligation as well.
What can the University of Mary Washington do to address students signing into class while driving? Any change would be tough, especially with everything else going on. The university has been and continues to be focused on implementing and enforcing COVID-19 related rules for students who are in person on campus. If the school releases a statement about the dangers of Zooming while driving and puts rules in place to curb the use of Zoom while behind the wheel, then students will just keep their video and audio off. With the enforcement of the new law ready to take place in 2021, UMW could take the next few months as an opportunity to not only educate students on the new changes but on the danger of Zooming while driving. Even if guidelines would not have an impact for the actual use of Zoom while driving, the school needs to have a vocal stance on the subject. This year has thrown enough at students, the last thing anyone needs is seeing a classmate get into a car accident live during a lecture.