To be overly simple, my job is to write about safety. To be honest, I generally think of myself as someone who balances safety and fun quite well. We’ve all heard the statistics on cell phones and driving (if you haven’t, I’ll refresh you soon). Forget statistics, we’ve driven a lane over from them or been stuck behind them as they, heads down, don’t budge at the green light. Or perhaps we’ve been that person (confession: guilty, very). According to Nationwide, driving while distracted is a factor in 25% of police reported crashes. Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37% (Carnegie Mellon). Had I heard these particularly stats before yesterday I would have thought, “yeah, people (other people) really shouldn’t drive distracted,” aka. they can’t handle it but I can. If you’re honest with yourself, you might relate to this mindset.
Last night I was driving home: music off and cell phone in hand (but not in use by any means). I dropped my phone and reached my free hand to grab it. I don’t even remember taking my eyes off the road, but the next thing I know I’m airborne only to come crashing to the ground in a deep ditch, taking out a sign and leaving a trail of car parts behind me. As my car finally comes to stop, I find myself shaking violently. That happened so easily! was all I could think. It didn’t feel risky and I didn’t think I was distracted. And that’s how it goes, folks. This was my first car accident.
According to Distraction.gov, there are three types of distraction: visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel) and cognitive (taking your mind off what you are doing). Distracted driving is any non-driving activity that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing. Texting is the triple threat, as it involves all three.
Other distracting activities include:
- Using a cell phone
- Eating and drinking
- Talking to passengers
- Reading, including maps
- Using a PDA or navigation system
- Watching a video
- Changing the radio station, CD, or Mp3 player.
I was truly fortunate that the ditch wasn’t deeper to flip my car, that no one was walking on the side of the road for me to hit, that a car wasn’t driving by when I overcorrected… had one detail been different last night my life or someone else’s could have been changed forever.
20 percent of injury crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving (NHTSA), but drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves (Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).