'The Three-Stage Process to Ending Distracted Driving' by Evan Kaufmann
Driving while blindfolded is dangerous. You probably won’t ever hear a sane person argue with that statement. Nevertheless, at any given moment, hundreds of thousands of drivers across the U.S. are doing essentially the same thing: operating a vehicle while not looking at the road in front of them. It’s a sobering thought. It’s called “distracted driving,” and incidents have reached such pandemic levels that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly one out of every five car accidents involves a distracted driver.
The prevalence of smartphones has given rise to a culture that sees itself as “always connected,” and with that constant connection comes an expectation of immediate communication. Texting is one of the greatest culprits contributing to this unsafe practice of distracted driving. According to the CDC website, “at 55 miles per hour, the average text takes your eyes off the road long enough to cover a football field.” Nevertheless, nearly one out of three drivers admitted to texting while driving at least once within the past 30 days, according to a study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It would be naïve to assume that none of these people view texting while driving as an unsafe practice. That being the case, why are so many willing to overlook the risks, and more importantly, what can be done to help curb this trend?
The first barrier to breaking the distracted driving habit is being convinced that the dangers are relevant. It’s an all-too-common sentiment, especially amongst younger drivers, that the statistics apply to others; most who text while driving simply believe they’re a good enough driver to handle both tasks at once. However, no matter how skilled the driver, the fact remains that operating an electronic device while driving increases your likelihood of getting in an accident almost as much as driving under the influence. Considering that the payoff is often just a text message, tweet, or selfie photo, it should be self-evident that distracted driving is a foolish gamble, even for the most experienced drivers.
Put the phone away. If it’s just too much of a temptation, better to leave it out of sight until you’ve parked the car. Parents should also set rules for their teen drivers not to text or answer the phone while they’re behind the wheel. If possible, avoid calling or texting someone when you know they’re road, to reduce the temptation of distracted driving.
Giving mental ascent to the dangers of distracted driving is one thing, but committing to making a lifestyle change is entirely different. (Just ask anyone who has tried to cut out trans-fat, cold turkey.) Sharing statistics alone won’t often change minds the same way that personal testimony will. Hearing the consequences of distracted driving from the mouth of an actual victim is an excellent motivator for breaking the habit.
My own moment of conviction came to me while I was conducting research for this very essay. I came across an online video where a father shared his testimony about losing his son to distracted driving. They were on the phone with each other when it happened. The father shared that both he and his son were aware of the risks that came with distracted driving but, like me, they gave little credence to the warnings. The grief he felt was still very apparent in his voice, and it was heartbreaking. My thoughts turned to my own family: my loving parents, my adoring wife, and my infant nephew. I thought of how terribly hurt I would be to lose any of them, and inwardly, I cringed at the thought of causing them the kind of pain that the father on this video had expressed.
If the lure of the phone is too great, even out of sight, toss it in the trunk before you drive. Keeping it somewhere completely inaccessible will allow you to fully focus on the task of driving.
Sometimes the problem isn’t a matter of knowledge or willpower, so much as just remembering the commitment you’ve already made. This is inherently personal, and different strategies will work better for different people. Finding the solution that works best for you is key to breaking the distracted driving habit.
My sister is a single mother. She works very hard to provide for my one and only nephew. My wife and I both love him dearly, and help out by watching him whenever we can. He's our godson, but we both treat him as if he were our actual son. The lock screen on my phone is actually a picture of him at the park, beaming at the camera with his adorable little smile. Originally, I had just saved it there because it was a really cute picture. Now, I'm using it as a reminder – a warning – not to touch my phone while I'm driving. Seeing his joyful face reminds me that it's not worth the risk, taking my eyes off the road even for a moment, just to answer a text or a call. Being a part of his life means too much to me to take that gamble. There's no reward worth the risk.
If tossing your phone in the trunk seems silly… or if you just have trouble remembering to do it… try putting a picture of your family on the lock screen. Every time your phone lights up, it will serve as a reminder of why you aren’t willing to answer it until you have the car safely parked.
CPR is an acronym that many are already familiar with, in terms of being a lifesaving procedure. I felt it was appropriate for the purposes of naming this three-fold strategy as well. If we can commit to convincing, persuading and reminding ourselves, our family and our friends about the dangers of distracted driving, we can dramatically reduce the number of traffic injuries and fatalities that result from simple driver negligence. We owe it to our loved ones to make the change and end the distracted driving pandemic.