My name is Cathy and I am a distracted driver. It has been 16 days since I last read a text on my phone while sitting at a stoplight, and just yesterday I had a five minute phone conversation while driving, using a blue tooth device.
My intention is not to make light of the topic of distracted driving, but instead to be authentic; as someone who knows the best practices, but doesn't always use them. In the process, I hope to encourage others to examine their own good and bad behaviors behind the wheel. It's so easy to be distracted while driving, but I think the first step to being a safer driver is recognizing what your own worst habits are, and then finding the steps you can take to change.
I'm a working mom of two kids -- a 9-year-old and a 4-year-old, and I find that anytime I'm in the car with my kids I have an extra challenge while I drive. There are frantic conversations when both kids are competing for my attention, frequent requests for various objects from the front seat, and then arguments and tattling. All of these things require an appropriate response. My kids are used to hearing me tell them that I can't do something because I need to be a safe driver, but there are also times when it is just easier to grab a package of fruit snacks out of the glove box while at a stop light, tear them open with my teeth and hand them into the backseat while I proceed through the intersection. It is in these moments that I know my other driving senses need to be heightened, and I can't afford one more distraction like the text from my husband to take my focus away from the road ahead.
The idea behind Drive Safe Wyoming was to inform and educate people in the state of Wyoming about what distracted driving actually is, and how dangerous it can be. I got the idea after hearing one "mom" friend talking about how she was texting while driving home and realized when she got there that she had very little memory of anything about that drive except the text conversation on her phone. This was her personal "a-ha moment" that allowed her to realize that her behavior was very dangerous. It actually flipped a switch for me as well. I began to wonder how many people had really considered that this relatively new and wonderfully efficient form of communication was challenging all of their skills and common sense as drivers. I work in radio, so naturally my thoughts went to creating some kind of awareness campaign to try to get others to think about the risks they are taking when they send or read text messages while driving. I reached out to some other partners in the media, and we formed a focus group to help us determine where to start, what to say and who to talk to.
Just for the record, I no longer type any message while I am behind the wheel, and on the road, whether I am completely stopped in traffic or not. But I still occasionally give in to a tempting distraction, whether from my phone, my kids or whatever is on my front seat that's about to spill all over the floor. When I do this, it is with a keen awareness that it's not safe, and then I get back on track as quickly as possible. I often think of myself and people like me as the target audience when I'm trying to create a new message for what is now a statewide awareness campaign in its third year of funding.
I know what it is about that smart phone that is so tempting while I'm driving, and I know the excuses that run through my head when I do give into that urge and glance at it, just to see who is texting me. I've written ads analogizing that urge to an addiction, and I've compared the distracted driver to a distracted dentist with a drill and to a football player who misses a catch because he is texting. I've targeted the multi-tasking super-mom as well as the at risk teen driver, and I've had messages voiced by the First Lady of Wyoming, Miss Teen Wyoming and a Highway Patrolman, all in an attempt to reach that person, like me, who knows what they should be doing, but needs a reminder so they will do it more often.
My own perception of what safe driving is has changed a lot in the time I've been working on Drive Safe Wyoming, and I will continue to strive to change to the perceptions of drivers around the state.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Harvard School of Public Health in an effort to call more attention to the dangers of texting while driving. Distracted driving is the cause of 350,000 crashes per year, and the series will be putting a spotlight on efforts being made to combat the crisis by the public and private sectors and the academic and nonprofit worlds. In addition to original reporting on the subject, we'll feature at least one post a day every weekday in November. To see all the posts in the series, click here; for more information on the national effort, click here.
And if you'd like to share your story or observation, please send us your 500-850-word post to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.