Distracted driving is such an epidemic in our country that the U.S. government has dedicated a stand-alone website to the issue. Distraction.gov defines the problem this way, “Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving.” Our state has also dedicated a website to distracted driving in Colorado and has created a campaign titled, “Drop the Distraction.”
Why are these websites so concerned about distracted driving? Because it kills people. Here are some statistics about distracted driving in Colorado:
- In 2015, 68 deaths and 15,574 crashes involved Colorado distracted drivers.
- Distracted driving fatalities are increasing in Colorado. In 2015, 68 (13 percent) of the 546 Colorado traffic fatalities were caused by distracted driving. In 2014, 59 (12 percent) of the 488 Colorado traffic fatalities were caused by distracted driving.
Nationally, in 2014, 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
Have you ever done one of these?
Before we blame all “those people” who drive while distracted, why don’t we name some of the many ways that drivers might be distracted while driving; then ask yourself if you’ve ever done one of these?
- Applying makeup
- Blowing nose
- Managing children in the car
- Adjusting the radio
- Changing clothes
- Allowing a pet in your lap
“Text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction.”
I bet we have all seen people doing things behind the wheel that defy logic. Of course, we all know the number-one cause of distracted driving in Colorado and across the country: cell phones. Why are cell phones – and text messaging in particular – so much more dangerous than, say, eating fries while driving? The federal website describes it like this, “Because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction.”
Texting takes all of your attention! And texting while driving kills.
Driving While Blindfolded
Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling 55 miles per hour, you have enough time to cover the length of a football field. Now, imagine that field was populated with cars, pedestrians, children, people on bikes and motorcyclists. The potential for catastrophic damage is extremely high.
OK, now imagine that a friend puts you behind the wheel of a car, blindfolds you, and then tells you drive 55 miles per hour for 5 seconds. Would you do it? Would you hit the accelerator and go? No way! And yet, any time you pick up your phone to text, it’s like you’re putting that blindfold on.
It only takes one accident to change your life – and the lives of your victims – forever.
What Can You Do?
First, we all need to be honest with ourselves. It’s fine and mighty to get self-righteous about “those people” who text while driving. But unless you have literally NEVER ONCE done it yourself, your attitude is misplaced. We should all first point the finger at ourselves and figure out what we need to do to limit our own distractions. After all, it only takes one accident to change your life – and the lives of your victims – forever.
Here are some things you can do to limit distractions in your car:
- Turn off your phone when you get in the car.
- Turn off your phone and put it away when you get in the car. I have a friend who silences her phone and locks it in the glove box so that she can’t access it until she is parked with her key out of the ignition.
- Don’t get into the car until you’re ready to focus on driving. If you leave the house with your makeup bag, planning to apply mascara, you weren’t ready to get behind the wheel. Set your alarm for 10 minutes earlier.
- Don’t eat. If you go through the drive-through, keep the food in the bag until you reach your destination.
- Calm down. Take a deep breath and take a reality check. Is the call that important? Is the text that important? Can you apply your makeup in the car when you’re parked at your destination? Will you actually starve to death if you don’t eat? Give yourself permission to let all the pressures that you’re feeling go! You are in charge behind the wheel; act like it.
Teenagers are more susceptible to peer pressure because they crave acceptance.
Speaking of pressures, there are few times in our lives when we face more pressure than we do as teens. Teenagers are more susceptible to peer pressure because they crave acceptance. So, what can you do to help your teenager ignore the pressures that he or she may feel to stay connected 100% of the time, even while driving?
- Educate your teen. There is no lack of videos about texting while driving on the internet. For example, Distracted.gov has created a campaign to educate people about the risks of texting while driving. One of the videos is shocking and disturbing, but in my estimation, it’s quite powerful (see below). Do your homework and find the ones that you think will speak to your teenager. Then, before handing over the keys, take an hour with your teen to watch the videos and have a discussion about your expectations and the real consequences of distracted driving in Colorado.
- Test your teen. Call from a number that he/she won’t recognize to find out if rules are being followed.
- Model good behavior. See my blog on this topic here.
- Be the bad guy. By this, I don’t mean take away their phone. I mean that you should tell your teenager, “Blame it on me! Tell your friends that I’ll take away your phone if you text or call while driving.” Give your teenager every assistance he or she needs to stand up to the intense peer pressures they face. If you are the scapegoat for your child’s good choices, great!
- Use technology. If you truly don’t believe that your teen can behave the way you expect behind the wheel, you might consider purchasing technologies that disable your teen’s ability to call or text while driving. (Make sure they can always call 911.) Here is an example of a company that offers this service, but I advise that you shop around.
If you have any questions about this article, other prevention tips for distracted driving in Colorado, or if you have been the victim in an accident involving a distracted driver, please contact me at (303) 388-5304.
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