Driving without thinking. Have you ever been guilty of doing that? Yes? No? Maybe? Or perhaps you're not paying attention now?
Here's the test: What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term "distracted driving?" Usually the most popular answer goes something like this: "It's somebody else, driving and not paying attention." Now wait, look in the mirror (no, not your rear view mirror.) The person you see in the mirror is only one of the millions of folks who operate a motor vehicle while their mind, eyes or hands are not fully engaged in the careful navigation of this two ton misguided missile. Come on, who really gets into their car, truck or yes, even bus, and actually devotes 100% of their focus on driving? I know, I know, you're a good driver! You can multi-task! You've been driving for 40 years and never been in a car crash! And, you're much too busy to waste time just driving.
Well, then, is distracted driving really a problem, or is it just another case of the safety geeks over reacting? Yes, you should realize, even as you read this there are millions of people driving distracted, right now. Some make it to where they're going safely and the others? Far too many families suffer the consequences for a loved one not paying attention. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that more than 3,300 people were killed in crashes relating to distracted driving in 2011. During that same year, more than 387,000 people were injured in similar crashes. The National Occupant Protection Use Survey, reports that at any given daytime moment approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones of manipulating electronic devices while driving.
Okay, so are those all just more scary government factoids? They don't apply to you because you are special, really good (and really quick) at texting while you're tooling down the road. And, here I am with some more research to dampen your day. Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent, at 55 miles per hour, of driving the length of an entire football field. Ouch! Too bad that stopped car you just rear ended was on the 10 yard line. Not exactly the score you had in mind a few minutes before, when you climbed into what, once, was your only means of transportation. Now wait a second, you're lucky to have survived that crash and can thank your seatbelt and really, the airbag only stunned you for an hour or so. Don't worry the amnesia will go away, forget about it. And those bruised ribs will be fine, in a month or six. But, hey, riding trains and buses is not really all that bad, as long as the driver isn't busy playing "Angry Birds."
Okay, alright, enough with the statistics. So what is the definition of distracted driving? NHTSA describes it as any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger and bystander safety. Is there anyone who drives a motor vehicle who's not distracted? Is there anyone, anywhere, doing anything that's not distracted? What was your answer? I'm sorry I didn't hear you; I was too busy being busy.
I grew up in New York City in the years long before cell phones were conceived. Manhattan is now, and was then, a crazy place to live, work or visit. But, it seemed drivers were always on their toes, always scanning the not so visible horizon and always ready to stop immediately. Are there more distractions today, than 30 or 40 years ago? It all depends on who the driver is and how much they're committed to paying the ultimate price? That ultimate price is paying full attention.
Have you looked at new cars lately? Really, really nice eh? GPS, mapping, great acoustic sound systems and many other on-board conveniences that make you feel like you're where, at home? That's one of the problems. When you're driving a car, you should feel like you're (I know this is weird) driving a car. Feeling like you're home puts your mind at rest, unfortunately your ability to focus, obediently follows. Hey, push back that old Lazy boy and make the next right.
And, as you're reading this you can probably think of your top ten distracted idiot stories. The best one I've heard, so far, was some guy driving down Interstate 89 in Vermont, playing a bugle? Was he playing "Taps?" What's your most bizarre distracted driving story? Don't be bashful. Okay?
But, most of all, I want anyone who reads this to understand, distracted driving is not okay! We cannot continue to lose 3,000 people every year in these avoidable crashes. I know everyone has a lot on their minds. When you get behind the wheel, focus on completing your trip safely. You owe it to your family and friends to arrive alive. I'll end by saying: I have to go think about my ride home.
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.