Imagine that you are standing in the end zone of a football field and there is a rhinoceros charging at you from the other end. He is running so fast that you can't get out of the way quick enough, then BAM! What the heck was that rhinoceros doing that he didn't see you? Must have been distracted, right? Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent -- at 55 mph -- of driving the length of an entire football field, blind. And we all know everyone drives faster than 55 mph now-a-days.
In 2011, more than 380,000 people nationwide were injured in a crash that involved a distracted driver. More than 171 billion text messages were sent or received every month in the US in 2012! At any given moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving.
Distracted Driving is the latest traffic-safety topic that has strong advocates on both sides of the fence. Some for laws against it and some that say we don't need laws for it. So what is distracted driving and why is everyone talking about it?
Distracted driving is anything that would cause the driver to take their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, and mind off the task of driving. These can be anything from kids in the car fighting, loud music playing in the car and everyone is jamming along, early morning rush hour eating breakfast in the car or putting the last touches of makeup on or for you men ... shaving. Yes it happens. But is all that worth a ticket? Most states would call that reckless or inattentive driving, depending on how bad the driver is distracted from what is going on in the car that may cause them to swerve on the roadway, speed, or drive really slow under the speed limit. All of these things cause a hazard on the roadways and can lead to crashes. Yes, crashes, not accidents. If it is predicable, it is preventable. Crashes are preventable, accidents are not.
Delaware has joined many other states and has crafted a "cell phone" law that allows law enforcement to stop, ticket and educate motorists who are engaging in conversations on a hand-held cell phone while driving, or texting while driving, or using any type of electronic-communication device while driving. It is a primary law in Delaware. The officer doesn't need any other reason to stop a driver.
But "I can drive while using a cell phone," you say. "It's the 'other' driver who can't, not me. I know how to multitask in the car, I'm a safe driver. I would never do anything to hurt anyone else. I have a long commute and need that time in my car to catch up on emails, make phone calls to clients or family, making shopping lists, catch up on TV shows or read the last chapter of that exciting novel." (Yeah, people watch TV and read books while driving ... I've seen it, it's crazy!)
"Why should I stop?" you ask. Because it is dangerous! Not only are you putting yourself and your vehicle occupants at risk (kids, spouse and parent) of being seriously injured or killed in a car crash, but now you're going to jeopardize my safety and the other drivers around you? Seriously?
I know you didn't mean to do it, but come on, what did I do to make you mad that you had to drive your car right into the back of me or cut me off or cross the center line and hit me head on? "Nothing," you say. That's right, I didn't do anything -- you did. But you still hurt me for no good reason than to answer that text message or have that conversation that made you take your eyes off the road and hand off the wheel for just a split second. You didn't see me breaking or you drifted across the center and you couldn't get back before you looked at the road again, and then, boom! We all lose.
There are just too many vehicles on the roads and so many more vehicle miles traveled today than ever before that if we just take our attention off the task of driving for a second, it's like driving blind across a football field, but that field is covered with other cars and people. I know you might not realize that you could hurt other people -- friends, neighbors, moms, dads, sisters, brothers, best friends or co-workers. If you did, there is a good chance that you know somebody who knows the person that you injured or killed. And that, well, that changes a lot of relationships. I know. Best friends growing up, involved in a car crash, sent one best friend to the hospital for months, surgery after surgery. Now they no longer speak to each other in person, only through lawyers. And it all could have been prevented. It didn't have to happen.
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.