Submitted by Riley Campbell
Ever since I was a young child I have always loved the idea of the freedom that comes with getting a driver’s license. I dreamed of being able to drive myself and my friends around our small suburban town. As I got closer and closer to that magical age where I could finally apply for a temporary driver’s permit I began to realize that I had deceived myself into believing that my driver’s license would come easily and naturally. Both of my parents served as police officers during their careers. I grew up with two very skilled and practiced drivers to drive me everywhere I needed to be. When it came time for me to learn to drive I found out very quickly that I would be held to a much higher standard than my friends. My parents ingrained safe driving practices into my head ever since the first time that I put my foot on the gas pedal. I knew that I would NEVER under any circumstance operate a cell phone while I was driving a vehicle. I would never allow myself to be distracted by other occupants in the car. Finally, I would always be watching out for other drivers on the road, making sure to drive defensively.
As I have been driving now for a couple of years these things seem obvious to me. Yet, as I see my peers and friends driving by me around our town I can’t help but notice that they are not actively watching the road for potential hazards. Instead, their eyes are shifted down analyzing what I presume to be their social media feed or their text messages. Needless to say, they are so caught up in their digital life that they don’t realize they may be seconds away from ending their real one. Many would agree that distracted driving is dangerous; there are statistics, studies, and charts all over the internet depicting the real cost of texting while driving. Countless local and national agencies are committed to raising awareness to distracted driving and promoting safe driving habits. According to an article published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, looking away from the road for about five seconds while traveling at 55 miles per hour is equivalent to driving the length of a football field blind. People may have the misconception that sending one text or reading one message can’t hurt. Talking on the phone when the roads are not very busy shouldn’t be too dangerous. . . There are all fallacies that many of my peers have. Sure most people will not admit that they do these things while driving but nonetheless many are in fact guilty. I find it surprising that the reality of distracted driving is well known yet the majority of people either choose to ignore it or believe that a horrible accident could never happen to them. As the research and data add up it is clear that many drivers, especially teens and new drivers, believe that they are more or less invincible; they are so confident in their ability to multi-task that they believe their use of a cell phone while driving is not a danger to others on the road. This type of mentality among young drivers is incredibly dangerous and could eventually cost themselves or another driver their lives. Young drivers especially should take extra care in order to assure that they are not distracted while driving. Building these good habits early in life will keep everyone safer on the road. Serious injury or even death due to a distracted driver should not be the first wake up call to drivers in order to get them to change their ways. Yet, this question still persists in my mind, “How many more tragic stories of family members and loved ones becoming the victims of distracted or impaired driving must there be in order for people to realize that their dangerous habits could cost a life?”
Mobile device and car manufacturers are both major contributors to the distracted driving epidemic. Cell phones now have “speech-to-text” recognition in order to make texting “hands-free.” Although people are not looking down at their phones for nearly as long as they would if they were actually typing out a message, the “speech-to-text” feature misleads people into thinking they can safely send a text while driving. In the time it takes a driver to reach for their phone and open their messaging app they could have very easily missed a pedestrian in the crosswalk or a cyclist riding on the side of the road. Just a few seconds of distraction can be lethal. Likewise, car manufacturers are building Bluetooth calling features into their cars. Even though these features seem to be benign, they actually encourage the use of a mobile device while operating a vehicle. When a task is made easier or less effort is required to complete it people will be more likely to do it than they were previously. In addition, a phone call is more distracting than a normal face-to-face conversation in the car. If the driver is on the phone with someone in a different setting the driver will be distracted by the background noise as well as the conversation taking place. On top of all of these immediate negative effects, the example set by parents for their children will most likely play a large role in the children’s driving habits in the future. I notice many times that my friends who use their phone while driving has parents who also talk or text while driving as well. Parents end up passing down a horrible habit to their children The next generation must break this habit in order for the distracted driving epidemic to end.
In order for progress to be made toward ending distracted driving, a collaborative effort must be made between the car manufacturers and the cell phone companies. Eliminating the “hands-free” approach to texting while driving seems like a technological step backward but it turns out this may be a step in the right direction to reducing distracted driving in the future.
Submitted by Riley Campbell