TERRE HAUTE —
You’ve got to stop. You know you do it. It’s a miracle you haven’t caused a tragedy already.
Power down your cell phone while you drive, from now on. Always. Sit down with your loved ones and urge them to do the same. You do not want them to endure years of anguish as result of a vehicular crash caused by texting while driving.
Such a family meeting might seem excessively dramatic to some. After all, any citizen of any civilized country has heard the warnings about distracted driving, so why belabor the point? Because that candid dinner-time talk may be the only way young people, adults, seniors, men and women — anybody with a valid driver’s license — will finally get the message and take it seriously.
Public awareness campaigns apparently are not enough. Laws in 39 states aren’t curbing the practice either.
What? You say you don’t use your phone and drive? Well, there is a 50-50 chance you’re being honest.
Half of you reading this are willing to answer an incoming cell phone call while behind the wheel, according to the newly released National Survey on Distracted Driving Attitudes and Behaviors distributed this month by the National Highway Safety Administration. Twenty-four percent will pick up their phone and place a call. At any given daylight moment, there are 660,000 motorists on U.S. roads manipulating a smartphone or tech device. Of the nation’s 212 million licensed drivers, 102 million answered calls, and 50 million made calls.
Consider yourselves fortunate if you’re not among the families and friends of 3,300 people who lost their lives in 2011 through distracted-driving collisions.
According to data from the NHSA, the number of Americans using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving has not decreased since 2010. In fact, the least experienced drivers — teenagers — are texting at the wheel at twice the rate they were in 2010. Yes, two of five drivers age 19 and under admit to using hand-held electronics on the road. This could be your child, grandchild, niece or nephew, a great kid who swears they never would do such an irresponsible thing. Or, they could be the person steering that SUV through a red light, head down, as you drive into an intersection later today.
The consequences aren’t abating either. In addition to those 3,300 people killed in 2011 in distracted-driving accidents, another 387,000 were injured.
Why do we — again, half of us — take such risks? In a matter of a few short years of technological innovation, we’ve grown addicted to constant communication. The person placing the text or call or Facebook posting expects an instant response. The recipient feels that pressure — a spouse, friend, parent, relative, son or daughter, boss or co-worker can’t be ignored, even during a 10-minute drive across town. By responding, though, we’re gambling with their futures and our own.
Last week, the heart-broken family of a 22-year-old Colorado college student agreed to allow police to release a stark, sad photograph. It shows the texting conversation between the young man and a friend, abruptly cut off in mid-sentence. The texts stopped after he looked up, saw he’d veered into the oncoming lane, jerked the wheel, went off the road, rolled his car and later died.
The family OK’d distribution of the picture as a reminder. In a statement, his mother said, “In a split second you could ruin your future, injure or kill others and tear a hole in the heart of everyone who loves you.”
Stop now. Tell someone you love to do the same. Today.