“Driver Swerves Into Opposing Lane on I-90, Causes Crash.” “Motorcycle Crash on Innterbelt Bridge Leaves Two Hospitalized.” “Head-On Crash in Concord Township Injures 4 Teens, 1 Seriously.” These are just a few of the headlines I found in our local newspaper from the past week. To say that we’ve been experiencing a rash of serious car crashes would be an understatement and I doubt Northeast Ohio is alone in these phenomena.
I don’t know how many of the drivers involved in these crashes were talking on the phone, but my guess is that at least of few of them were. And it infuriates me, especially given that it is illegal to text and drive and in some cities in my area, to talk on a hand-held phone and drive.
In the past week, I nearly have been hit four times by drivers who pulled past stop signs, pulled out into traffic without looking to see the large, black SUV heading their way, swerved out of their lanes on the highway or failed to stop for a stop light or stop sign. All of these drivers had one thing in common: a phone attached to their ear. Fortunately, in all of these situations, one of us – me – was paying attention to driving rather than chatting. (As a side note, I’ve also seen three pedestrians step out into traffic and nearly get pancaked in the past week because they were more engaged in their phone conversations than they were in watching for moving cars and “Walk” signs.)
Four years ago, while in a line of cars stopped for a red light – heading up a hill – my car was hit from behind by a car driven by a woman who was texting. She told the responding police officer she “didn’t know what happened.” He told her he couldn’t imagine what caused her not to see the stopped traffic ahead, since she was heading up a steep hill toward a line of six cars stopped dead at a red light.
He asked to see her phone and when she handed it to him and he opened up her text app, it was obvious the accident had interrupted a sexting session. He ticketed her for everything he could think of and her insurance company not only paid for the $4,000 in repairs to my car and a rental car for a week, they wrote me an additional check for $1,000. They claimed it was for missing work to deal with the accident, etc., but I referred to it as an “annoyance fee.” I think they were just grateful that she hadn’t killed herself or me. She hit me so hard that the front of her car actually lodged under the back of my car and destroyed my exhaust system, my two back tires and my brake line. Her car was totaled.
There have been multiple studies and many safety campaigns since my accident, warning people not to text and drive or talk and drive. We KNOW that a driver who is texting is as likely to get into an accident as one who is legally drunk.
In 2005 – almost 10 years ago! – we wrote about distracted driving. According to the article, “Most drivers admit to engaging in at least one distraction while driving and the list is growing thanks to technological devices such as global positioning systems, DVD players and text messaging. The poll indicates that multi-tasking while driving is only likely to grow, with the youngest, least experienced drivers being the group most likely to drive while sending or reading a text message or talking on a cell phone.”
I honestly wish that all hand-held devices automatically were disabled when a person got in a car. No texting and, if the driver didn’t have Bluetooth, no talking. The argument I hear most often against this – sometimes from my own coworkers who are sales reps and who essentially use their vehicles as mobile offices – is that some people need to talk on the phone or check messages while they are driving and that it’s not reasonable to expect someone who drives for a living to pull over every time they get an email message or phone call.
Three years ago, after I nearly was creamed by a wrong-way driver with his lights off barreling down the highway at night, I noted that had I been texting or even talking on the phone or looking down to change the radio station, I could have been killed. I was able to avoid that driver because I was paying attention to the road, as were the other drivers around me who allowed me to cut over to avoid a head-on collision.
At that time, I wrote, “As leaders in the safety industry, would we encourage employees to watch television while driving forklifts? Text their spouses while simultaneously operating a drill press? Operate a backhoe while updating their Facebook status? Not in a million years! So why would it ever be okay for an employee to text, check missed calls or return an email while driving down a highway or a busy street?”
It’s never okay to divert our attention away from the road while we’re driving. Never. It truly is a life-and-death situation, with as many as 3,000 people losing their lives in distracted driving accidents each year.
Don’t be a statistic. And please don’t make me one either.