I’ve always been a safety conscious person, though my mother would call it a “worrier.” I’m not sure where that trait sprung from, it certainly doesn’t appear to be genetic. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I married a fire fighter. With him I had my own personal safety officer to remind me multiple times a day how what I was doing at that very moment could lead to injury or death. Ok, so it’s a bit overkill and I tease him now 32+ years later that I’ve managed to make it through life without every falling victim to my own safety vulnerabilities, but though I tease him, I know his words come from a place of love and wisdom.
In his 30+ years with the fire department he’s seen people hurt themselves in a multitude of ways. Probably the most prolific is car crashes. It seems that once some people get behind the wheel all common sense goes out the window. They drive too fast, take chances when passing, and generally just wreak havoc on the streets. But every one of us is THAT driver at some time. It generally happens when we’re in a hurry, stressed out, overwhelmed by the kids in the backseat, late for an appointment, trying to eat dinner in the car, changing the radio station, or daydreaming with our thoughts somewhere other than where they should be, on our driving.
All of these bad driving habits are distracted driving. What?!? You thought that only drivers talking and texting are distracted? Nope. Anytime you’re not focused on driving, you’re taking a chance in causing or being involved in a crash.
Distracted Driving: My Wake-up Call
I had a very close distracted driving wake-up call almost 10 years ago. I’d stopped to buy a 64 oz soft drink and I placed the full cup between my parking brake and my seat. I’d done this before, but it was a new car and I may not have had one that large before, but it felt secure so I headed home.
I drove home my normal route and as I took a right turn onto the main road to our house, the convenience store plastic cup started to lunge forward. I instinctively grabbed at it to save my new upholstery and carpet. Unfortunately, before I could upright the cup, most of it splashed over my leg and onto the floor. The shock of that cold soda drenching me made me gasp and for an instant I looked down. In that moment, I crossed over to the oncoming lane and onto the unpaved median on the other side of the road. Thankfully I looked up just in time to slam on my breaks to avoid going head first into the open ditch.
I sat there stunned, on the wrong side of the road. Just inches away from the ditch, with my car’s rear-end in the oncoming lane and cold soda running down my leg and onto my new carpet. I remember looking around, stunned, with the realization that I could have just killed myself or worse, someone else. I was shaken to the core.
I was so lucky the typically busy road was empty and that none of the Jr High kids that usually walked that route were on the road. My convenience store stop had put me a few minutes behind so they all cleared the area safely before I got there. That was the day I started taking distracted driving seriously. Since then I’ve attended several safety conferences and found out so much more about the consequences of losing focus while driving, even for a second.
Distracted Driving: Cellphones
When I had my close call a cellphone was a luxury and while I had one, I rarely used it because of the cost of airtime. Now cellphones are everywhere and the car is one place they bring a lot of convenience. GPS and turn-by-turn driving directions have changed the way most of us navigate, but that comes with a cost.
Even someone as acutely aware of the dangers of distracted driving as I am sometimes make poor choices. I’ve changed my GPS routing while driving and answered a call without thinking. But I realized what a mistake that was and now I pull over before touching my smartphone, every single time. I came to the conclusion that there’s not one thing I can do on my smartphone that’s more important that being alive and well.
I’m sure you’re wondering why I didn’t just start using voice commands for my phone. It has that feature, but it turns out that research has shown that switching to voice operated, doesn’t mean distraction free. But what if you live in one of the states that hasn’t outlawed talking and texting? That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop. In fact, I call it being dead right. Yes, you’re right, it’s not illegal, but the activity could cause you pain or injury. Is it worth it? But more importantly, does your right to talk and drive usurp my right to live? Not in my book.
Distracted Driving: It’s up to You
While I have my real-life safety minder, not everyone does. So what can you do? Check out the Decide to Drive campaign and learn all that you can about it and share that information with your friends and family. Then model good driving behavior and express your disapproval when you see others driving in an unsafe manner.
If you have teen drivers, talk to them about the dangers and how to speak up if they’re a passenger to prevent distracted behaviors behind the wheel. Use real-life examples, there are plenty available, of kids who paid the ultimate price for their distracted driving.
Also visit the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. They’re the folks who’ll have to put you back together in the event of a crash. They’d prefer we all “decide to drive” every time we get into our cars. To help us do just that, they’ve provided a page of information called “Take Back the Road” where you’ll find a Wreck-less Checklist that you can print and share or even send anonymously via email to someone you feel drives recklessly.
Distracted Driving: Resources
Find out more about Distracted Driving from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the Auto Alliance, and the Decide to Drive campaign. Plus connect with these resources on Facebook and stay up-to-date or learn more: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons on Facebook, Auto Alliance on Facebook and “Decide to Drive” on Facebook
What can you do today to help stop the epidemic of Distracted Driving?
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.