It’s an all too familiar scene: I pull up to a red light and stop. I hear the “ding” coming from the phone in my purse. Should I look? I’m stopped, after all. I decide, “It can wait” and I ignore it. Another ding. Eye roll and a deep inhale. Be strong. It can wait. It’s not worth getting into a crash to tell my family that my ETA is in 5 minutes, or to discuss what’s for dinner. Instead of grabbing the phone, I look over to the driver stopped in the car to my right, and I look over to the driver in the car stopped to my left. Both are looking at their smart phones. I look in my rear view mirror; the driver directly behind me is looking at her screen, the familiar blue reflection over her face. The pedestrians walking through the cross walk in front of me are looking down at their devices, not noticing that their “Do Not Cross” sign is flashing and that my light just turned green. No one is paying attention to the road, to each other, to the traffic signals, or to safety.
We’re all distracted, not just by smart phones. Distracted driving is anything that takes the driver’s attention away from driving, such as eating, using our vehicle’s navigation, or playing with the stereo. Texting alone can take our eyes off the road for 5 seconds to read or send a message. At highway speeds, a car can travel the length of an entire football field during those 5 seconds! Even on residential arterial roads, a distracted driver’s quick call to her husband to pick up their kids took her eyes off the road for just a second, and caused the tragic death of a 9 year-old girl biking home from school, right in front of her house.
The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration reports 3,142 people were killed in motor vehicle collisions involving distracted drivers in 2019 alone, and an estimated 26,000+ from 2012-2019. It also reports that 9% of fatal crashes in 2019 involved distracted drivers.1
These tragedies are 100% preventable. Parents need to lead by example. Teens need to speak up when friends are distracted drivers. Employers need to encourage employees to commit to distraction-free driving. We can all do better.