12/03/2013 12:18 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2014

At NASCAR I Keep My Eyes on the Road, or Else

Ben Rhodes

When I fire up the engine in my race car, I focus 100 percent on the task at hand: bringing home a win. As a race car driver, if you are not focused, you can go from winning to wrecking out your car in a split second. But a single focus and concentration isn't just important on the track; it's also important on the roads outside the track.

I had the opportunity to partner with the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety on their "Smooth Operator" PSA campaign earlier this year, speaking to teenagers like myself. Not only did it feel like a good thing to do for the community, it also opened my eyes to the dangers of distracted driving.

Did you know that according to the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety, 80 percent of car crashes and 65 percent of near crashes involve some sort of distracted driving? It only takes one glance down at your phone to alter your life forever. One minute you could be on your way to the grocery store, and the next minute you could be on your way to the hospital or worse.

As a teenager, I understand the tendency to multi-task while driving. Sometimes when you're driving, it can get boring. Considering how vital our phones are in connecting us to our friends, family, and the entire world, it's somewhat in our nature to reach for the phone and pull up our social media account or respond to a text message.

And of course there are other ways we distract ourselves while driving. From reading GPS maps and changing radio stations to eating, drinking, smoking and daydreaming, we constantly have a million things vying for our attention. And it's really easy to get engrossed in talking to your passengers and find yourself more focused on the conversation than the road. But the problem is that when we're not focused on the road, we don't give ourselves a chance to react to unexpected events that force a quick decision, like deer or a car running a red light, as we're driving through the intersection.

I travel to many races per year and see so many people swerving on the road because they're distracted. It gives me even more incentive to focus 100 perent on the road because you don't know what the person in the car next to you might be doing.

At the end of the day, it's not the phone or text messages or changing radio stations to blame for many of our tragic car accidents. The real danger of distracted driving is you and me -- and the choices we make behind the wheel.

This holiday season, let's remember to put aside all distractions and concentrate on the road. When we do this, we'll be looking out for our own lives, and the lives of others.

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