I’m sitting in the passenger seat at an intersection. My friend is driving. I look left and right and remark that the drivers on both sides of us are on their cell phones. I make sure I’m buckled up. The light turns green but the driver in front of us doesn’t budge. She’s clearly busy texting and we’re annoyed. In the interest of full disclosure, my friend, we’ll call her Jodie, has her iPhone firmly in her right hand and it dings.
We’ve been told over and over again that it’s not just dangerous to make a call, send a text or check Facebook , it can be deadly. It takes your eyes off the road. In fact, the average text will take your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. If you drive with your cell phone, you’re four times more likely to get in a crash serious enough to cause injury and land you in the trauma center. And if you text, you’re 23 times more likely to crash.
Plus it’s illegal. Under Michigan’s anti-texting law, a driver shall not “read, manually type or send a text message on a wireless two-way communication device that is located in the person’s hand or in a person’s lap while operating a motor vehicle…” Michigan and 45 other states plus the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving.
But Jodie checks the phone.
It’s a work text and she immediately starts texting back just as traffic starts to move again. Jodie looks up, accelerates and then looks down for just a brief moment to check her spelling. And in that nano-second that she looked down – just that blink of an eye – the woman in front of us hits her brakes. I scream. And Jodie takes out the lady’s back bumper.
I look at her. She looks at me. We don’t say a word. Stunned silence. We’re all belted in. No injuries. She’s embarrassed and we both know it could have been far worse. Every year drivers using cell phones while driving cause 500,000 injuries and 6,000 deaths and that number is growing.
So you’d think we would both have learned our lessons. You’d think we would realize that it’s time to put our phones down. You’d think that would have been a loud enough wake-up call. Or the fact that a dozen teens die every day in accidents involving texting and driving. But if I’m really honest, we’re still guilty of checking our phones and responding to texts. Not just Jodie. Not just me. According the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at any given moment 660,000 drivers are using cellphones while driving. The National Safety Council says it’s worse than that: a third of all drivers admit to texting and driving. But what about those who haven’t admitted it?
Of those who have come clean: 18% say they just can’t resist the urge. It’s an addiction— an impulse they can’t ignore. We’re stressed, we’re busy, we’re eager to connect and we’re distracting ourselves to death. Texting is the worst possible distraction. It takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel and your mind off driving. And still we do it.
This is the era of screen time. And we prefer the screen to someone’s face. And our phones are such security blankets, we’re reluctant to turn them off or put them in the back seat.
There are apps you can download to help change the habit, i.e. text-STAR or live2txt. I’m giving one a try. And I’m putting my cell phone down— and if I drive with Jodie, I’m holding her cell phone.
Next time it could be far worse than a fender bender.
I don’t want the last sentence of my obit to read: “Police say the driver was texting.”