Traffic is bumper-to-bumper, moving at a crawl. You inch forward, before pounding the steering wheel with the palm of your hand as you realize you’re going to be late to work...again. Up ahead lights are flashing. Smoke rises from the side of the road. As you move closer, the view opens, revealing a scene straight from the Apocalypse.
A gas tanker is in flames. Underneath the tanker, a small vehicle is wedged, with the roof crushed in. Flames shoot out what may have been the back window, but if you're honest, you're not sure if you're looking at the front or back of the vehicle. How many people were in the car and tanker? How could anyone survive?
Later that evening, you return home and flip on the news. Images of the morning’s grisly scene fill the screen. A reporter tells her audience that a teenager had been driving the car with three passengers. Investigators believe the driver became distracted and swerved underneath the tanker, killing not only himself, but his passengers, and the driver of the tanker. In a single instant, the lives of five people are extinguished forever.
The story above is fiction, but the reality is this narrative could happen in any state or city. According to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), 2,841 people died in 2018, (the latest numbers available) due to distracted driving. To break these numbers down a little further, the NHTSA says that 1,730 were drivers, 605 were passengers, 400 were pedestrians, and 77 were bicyclists.
But what, exactly, is distracted driving? Distracted driving is anything that takes your attention away from your driving, even if it’s only for a few seconds. NHTSA says distracted driving can be texting, talking on the phone, fiddling with the radio or even eating and drinking. But the most dangerous of these activities is texting. Studies have shown that a single text, whether you are reading the text or sending it, can divert your attention from the road for up to five seconds. If you are traveling at 55mph, that’s the entire length of a football field.
Distracted driving is an issue that impacts all segments of society, not just teenagers. The AAA Foundation conducted research that shows distracted driving is a growing issue in older populations as well. The study found that nearly 60% of participants, with an average age of 73, used their cell phone for texting or calling while operating a vehicle, often while transporting their minor grandchildren.
As a society, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the number of deaths reported each year, due to distracted driving. NHTSA says that first, parents and grandparents can lead by example and not drive distracted. This means no talking on the phone, texting, or other activities that take your attention from the road. Also, talk to your children about the dangers of distracted driving. Share with them the importance of putting safety first. But if you really want your kids to listen, then as mentioned above, lead by example.
Teenaged drivers can do their part by speaking up when a friend is engaging in distracted driving. They can also get involved with organizations such as Students Against Destructive Decisions or ask their friends to sign a pledge to refrain from distracted driving.
By working together, we can make a difference.
If you would like more information on distracted driving, check out the websites below for the AAA foundation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.