17-year-old checks Facebook while driving, kills man and his 10-year-old daughter
Teen survives first distracted-driving crash, but not the second
A Seven-Year-Old Boy Left Paralyzed by a Distracted Driver
Girl Runs Red Light While Texting and Kills Two
A Woman Knocked Over and Killed Pedestrian While Texting About Dinner
A Driver was Sent to Prison Following a Crash Caused by Texting Emojis
These are unfortunately actual headlines from real cases of distracted driving. April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Tragically, 3,142 people were killed and over 400,000 injured by distracted driving in the U.S. in 2020. Distracted drivers kill 8-9 people and injure thousands each day. In Louisiana, an average of 28 people die and 5,400 are injured every year because of distractions while driving. Some in law enforcement believe these numbers are underreported by 25-40%. On average, Louisiana drivers use their cell phones 2.4 times each time they drive, and researchers have found that drivers can remain distracted for up to 30 seconds after checking their phones. Twenty percent of people who died of distracted drivers are not even in vehicles, i.e. they were walking on bicycles, or otherwise outside their vehicle. It is interesting that the top three age groups for the number of distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes are ages 25-34, 35-44, and 45-54, not the novice drivers 15-20 and 21-24.
Nowadays we think of cell phones and electronic devices when we think of driving distractions, but they are not the only culprits. We have all been amazed and even had a chuckle at what we have seen drivers doing as we drive down the road: eating with both hands, putting on mascara (apologies to my wife), rocking out to music, changing clothes, reading books on the steering wheel–the list goes on. However, in the context of these stories and statistics, it is difficult to find any humor.
Distractions are categorized into three main types: visual, manual, and cognitive. Visual distractions involve taking your eyes off the road. Manual distractions involve taking your hands off the wheel. Cognitive distractions involve taking your mind off driving.
Now in the interest of full disclosure, I am guilty of all of these at one time or another; gawking at things I drive past (wildlife, accidents, and scenic views), adjusting the radio, using the navigation, eating (sometimes with both hands), grabbing something that fell on the floor, even being so caught up in my thoughts that I miss a turn. Of course, answering the phone, texting, and the more mundane like talking with passengers or using a hands-free phone have also been distractions. I have also called people knowing that they are driving and continued to carry on a conversation with them. Even more, I have been frustrated when trying to get hold of someone and notified automatically that their cell is off because they are driving (new technology which has been developed to eliminate distractions).
So, what can be done to stop this alarming trend? The car industry has helped with technology such as blind spot alerts, adaptive cruise control, lane assist, and making it easier to connect your device to the cars hands free control. Legislation has helped by increasing the consequences when caught driving distracted. Louisiana has the highest fines for distracted driving in the surrounding states at $500 for the first offense, $1,000 and 60-day license suspension for second and subsequent violations, not to mention the increase in insurance rates. As drivers, we can stop multi-tasking while driving. Select music, adjust mirrors and take care of texts and phone calls before or after your trip. Most phones have a “Do Not Disturb” feature which prevents notifications from coming through while driving. Other options include phone apps (Safe 2 Save, LifeSaver, Drivemode, OnMyWay) that automatically block the ability to make and receive calls while driving. Some of them even have point systems that can be redeemed at restaurants, for gift cards, or even directly deposited into Pay Pal or Venmo accounts. As passengers, we can do all we can to assist the driver and prevent them from being distracted by helping with navigation, watching for hazards, and assisting in other tasks. Also, speak up if you see your driver distracted and ask them to focus on their driving. As parents, we can talk with our children and remind them that driving is a skill that requires full attention, install safe driving phone apps on their devices, and most importantly, lead by example. It is a flawed argument to have our children “do as I say, not as I do.”
There is a real temptation to dismiss this issue. We’ve all driven distracted to some degree, and nothing happened. We also have gained experience with driving distracted and have gotten better at it with practice, or so we think. Through the years of work as a Trauma Surgeon, and now serving Winn Parish as Coroner, I have experienced the results of distracted driving. As I researched this article, it was difficult not to reflect on how many times I have driven distracted by this strict definition. However, after reading and watching about the numerous tragic stories and the consequences of distracted driving, it is hard to justify any distraction. No one thinks it will ever happen to them until it does and once it does, the task that caused the distraction was never justifiable. In the past, if I am honest, the main deterrent to distracted driving was getting caught and fined. In the future, I will strive to remember the consequences of these tragic accidents as a deterrent next time I am tempted to be distracted.
For more information about distracted driving, check out https://www.enddd.org/