Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend the first Every Second Matters Distracted Driving Symposium sponsored by the Travelers Institute, Independent Insurance Agents of North Carolina, NC Vision Zero, Road to Zero, and the National Safety Council. The Every Second Matters initiative is a national educational campaign launched this year by the Travelers Institute with the goal of reducing distracted driving and empowering all drivers to set positive examples for one another.
I am very passionate about advocating for roadway safety, especially after a few good friends of mine were in some serious car accidents, seemingly one right after the other. It’s an issue that affects all people, regardless of whether they drive or not.
At the beginning of the program, we were asked to raise our hand if we knew someone who had been affected by distracted driving.
Every single hand in the room went up.
I was among insurance agents, engineers, professors, start-up founders, programmers, fire marshals, construction managers, social advocates, researchers, and students. We were of different generations, different educational backgrounds, different professional affiliations, and different stages of life, but we all had this one thing in common.
Distracted driving impacts everyone.
Car crashes are the #1 cause of death for teens.
We need to be teaching our kids about the risks of the road and safe driving practices. We need to be setting good examples for them. If your kids see you riding around without a seat belt, on your phone, messing with the radio, etc. they are that much more likely to grow up to do the same thing. And kids, yell at your parents when you know they don’t have their full attention on the road. Many teens who vocalize the safety mistakes their parents are making when they are in the car actually influence their parents to start driving more safely.
The fact that auto accidents are the leading cause of death for drivers under age 20, however, does not mean that this is a generational problem. You cannot push all of the blame on millennials, for example, because they are not the sole party at fault. I know just as many middle-aged adults who don’t wear seat belts and text while driving as I do young people. You can’t argue that the problem is just that these “crazy kids don’t know how to drive” because that simply is not the whole truth. We are all the problem, but we are also all the solution.
40% of drivers have experienced a “near miss” or caused a crash because they were distracted.
Let’s talk about what “distracted driving” actually refers to for a second. It is not just using your phone! Distracted driving could include dealing with unruly children in the backseat, talking to passengers, eating, setting up a GPS system, adjusting mirrors, messing with the infotainment system, or even just letting your mind wander. The three types of distractions as stated by the CDC are actually:
Visual – includes taking your eyes off of the road
Manual – includes taking your hands off of the steering wheel
Cognitive – includes taking your mind off of driving
AT&T’s It Can Wait campaign has the following 360 simulation experience – it’s less than 3 minutes long, play it through to the end.
In 2015 alone, nearly 3,500 people died in crashes caused by a distracted driver. Over 390,000 people were injured.
Distracted driving is an epidemic that is sweeping the nation. Yes, we push all kinds of statistics, but those numbers are real people with real families and real lives. At the symposium, we were told to close our eyes and picture someone very important to us. We imagined that we had a photo of them on our door that we saw every time we left and every time we came back home. Then, we imagined that photo and that person suddenly being taken away from us, without warning. Now, today that death may not be you or someone you love, but that death is of a person who was very important to someone.
It can happen to you.
Every time you get into a vehicle, you are taking a significant risk. It is a part of our daily lives and we feel this sense of invincibility. We get into believing this confirmation bias that just because we checked our phone that one time and were fine, and then checked Facebook another day and were okay, and then made a phone call the next day without a problem, that we have perfect odds of always being safe. We are not indestructible. Stop acting like it.
The above video is so scary. It just takes a split second for something to happen that could change your life, or the life of someone else, forever.
What can we do?
We can’t fully eliminate every single distraction imaginable, but there are steps we can take to dramatically reduce the risk each time we get into a vehicle:
The biggest thing, in my opinion, is to put your phone down. If you don’t have the discipline to turn it off every time you drive, put it in the backseat, in the console, or in the glove box, basically anywhere out of sight and out of reach. If you can’t get to it, you will be less tempted to mess with it!
If you need your phone for GPS (aka me, I can’t get anywhere), get a dashboard mount. My windshield mount is my favorite thing ever, I don’t know how I ever drove without it! You can find cheap ones that work (mine was $10 from Target, but it only lasted me about a year), but I promise a quality mount is definitely worth it (I have this strong magnetic one now – so much easier!).
You can also put your phone on Do Not Disturb mode or, if you have an iPhone and iOS 11, turn on safe driving mode.
Sitting at a red light is not an excuse to scroll through your phone either. When you go from sitting on your phone to starting to drive when the light turns green, it takes your brain about the length of a football field to fully focus on the fact that you’re driving again. This is called distraction latency and represents the lack of engagement upon switching tasks from driving and back again.
Check all of your mirrors, pick your radio station, and start your GPS before you put the car in drive.
Know your car and take the time to figure out a rental car/friend’s car/whatever if you aren’t familiar with it. Get to know your car at the My Car Does What website!
Back into parking spaces when you get to work. When I worked in construction, we all had to back into our parking spots. We learned it was because there were increasingly more accidents caused by people backing into other cars or machinery when they were leaving for the day. Why? Distracted driving! They had so much on their minds as they were leaving work that they were not fully paying attention.
Never assume another driver sees you or understands what you’re trying to do. You can never assume that car is going to stop for you or follow their turn signal.
Don’t text and walk! Distracted pedestrians and distracted drivers do not make a very pretty combination.
Overall, be an active advocate. Share the facts and the solutions. Don’t let those you love drive distracted and be conscious of your own driving habits. The only way we can fight this and win is if we all take the pledge together.
Are you with me?
See how your car rates on safety and watch how it performs in a collision at the IIHS HLDI database here!
Students can become members of the National Safety Council for free! You’ll get access to the Safety+Health magazine, discounts, safety talks and materials, and access to the most recent statistics. Sign up here.
~What steps do you take against distracted driving? How has distracted driving affected you?