“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says nearly 3,477 people died and 391,000 were injured in 2015 from crashes involving a distracted driver.”
Many of us have become desensitized to the numerous messages, laws, and lectures surrounding cell phone usage (talking, texting, messaging, internet surfing) and the resultant risk from Distracted Driving. That is unfortunate, though to some degree understandable. Some of us agree that there may be risk but do not find it personally applicable or compelling; others disagree – either on a practical level (they think the concern is not valid) or emotionally, seeing this as an intrusion on personal freedom and individual rights (it is nobody else’s business how I conduct my life.)
The difficulty with these objections is that they are flawed. It is undisputed that distracted or inattentive driving is a significant contributor to accidents and accidents do not just involve and affect careless drivers – a driver may hit other people or property and even if they only injure themselves there may be a cost to others. That cost can include:
- lost time from work (possible worker’s comp and lost productivity costs to the employer),
- emotional and financial burden placed upon family and friends,
- welfare (tax burden) if the driver is unable to return to work.
Many of us tend to be confident, some might say reckless, believing that we are immune to distractions that might affect others and that our actions are not subject to public scrutiny. Yet our actions and the actions of others do impact us and others, frequently resulting in accidents. Inevitably, it is someone who truly believes that they are not susceptible to the increased risks of distracted driving who ends up causing or failing to avoid an accident.
We can learn from other common experiences that demonstrate how distractions affect our lives. For example:
- we forget to do things because we are distracted,
- we make errors and omissions at work because we are distracted,
- we burn dinner because we are distracted.
Sometimes our distractions result in minor inconveniences, sometimes they have horrific consequences. Distracted workers lose fingers, hands, eyesight and lives. Distracted parents lose track of their children. Consequences seemingly far disproportionate to the cause – distraction. But we should not and can not underestimate the potential life altering consequences of one distracted moment – particularly when driving a multiple ton vehicle with precious human cargo along a road at 50 mph and sharing that road with so many others in the same situation.
Should we be concerned that the driver in the car next to us is texting on the phone but believes they are immune to the risks of distracted driving? If they are mistaken do we care? Will we care when their 2-ton truck veers momentarily into our lane and hits our car and our children? Or do we trust that they, just as many of us feel about ourselves, are not affected by distractions? Are you comfortable letting a neighbor drive your children to school when you know your neighbor might be tuning in the radio, applying make-up, making a call, or reading their morning emails while driving?
Your neighbor is confident that distractions don’t affect them; are you? Are you sure your distractions will not affect you or anyone else? What are the potential risks of distracted driving and what is the reward for distracted driving? Please think about it.
Robert Sumwalt, board member of the NTSB, believes that “Distraction is becoming the new DUI. This is going to reach epidemic proportions.”