How Driving Distracted Can Affect the Lives of Others
In May of 2002, my aunt Sandra was coming home from a late shift at the local convenience store. It was a little before 7 in the morning, and all she wanted was to get home, take a hot shower, grab a bite to eat, and get some sleep. Suddenly, her car was hit head-on at nearly 60 miles per hour. She was killed instantly. Her car was hit with such force that the transmission was nearly in the back seat. The other driver was in intensive care for two weeks, and when he finally left the hospital there were careless driving charges waiting for him. He admitted that he'd been on the phone, arguing with his wife, when the accident happened. The state of Georgia suspended his license for six months, and that's it.
My uncle was both grief-stricken and furious. How could the other driver's only punishment for causing a fatality be losing his license for six months? He refused to let it stand, and brought a civil suit against the other driver. My uncle prevailed in court, and was awarded a judgment of $550,000. To date, he has collected less than $25,000 of that money.
Distracted drivers cause more than 26% of all traffic fatalities. Here are some other important facts on driving while distracted:
- Distracted driving is the #1 killer of American teens. While alcohol-related crashes among teens have dropped, the number of teen-related traffic fatalities remains unchanged, because distracted driving is on the rise. (Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance Study and NHTSA study)
- According to a national survey of teen drivers, over 90% say that they don't drink and drive. However, that same nine out of 10 say they've seen passengers distracting the driver, or witnessed a driver talking on the phone.
- Brain power used while driving decreases by 40% when a driver listens to conversation or music.(Carnegie-Mellon University study)
- More than 80% of drivers admit to hazardous behavior such as steering with their feet or knees, shaving, applying make-up, or changing clothes while driving. (Nationwide Mutual Insurance survey)
- Driving distracted can slow reaction time as much as, if not more than, being drunk. A University of Utah study reports that a driver on a cell phone is just as impaired as a driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 (the legal limit in most states).
- Over the past few years, almost every state has passed some sort of legislation against distracted driving. New Jersey is considering a law that would mandate the same penalty for cell phone use as they would for a drunk driver that caused a fatal crash.
Of course nothing will bring my aunt back, but if these tougher laws can prevent one more family from going through the pain that my family has experienced, I'm all for it.
While not as traumatic as my uncle's story, I have also had a run-in with a distracted driver. About two months ago, I was in a grocery store parking lot when my car was hit in the driver's side door by a man who was backing up. Thankfully I wasn't hurt, but my car was damaged pretty badly. He obviously wasn't paying attention to his driving, and I believe it was because of text messaging, because after I called the police, he was texting back and forth the whole time -- even AFTER the officers arrived! The officer asked him if he'd been texting while driving. I'm not sure why he would admit to text messaging while he was driving. I believe he was just nervous, and blurted it out without thinking. I was livid, but rather than get angry at him I decided to let the insurance companies handle it. As it turns out, that was a mistake. The other driver didn't have insurance! I found out through a letter from his insurance company that he'd let his coverage lapse. My husband and I paid $700 out of our own pockets for the repairs, because we didn't have uninsured motorist coverage. We definitely do now, though.
Distracted drivers contribute to tens of thousands of crashes, and thousands of fatalities each year. Many of these accidents, including the one that took my aunt's life, could have been avoided if the driver had given their undivided attention to the road. E-mail, text messaging, that phone call, changing the station on the radio- that can all wait until the next time you stop. Please, for your own safety and that of the motorists around you, pay attention to the road, and drive safely.
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