In August of 2012, Kevin Reece, a reporter for WFAA-TV, tells the story of a 21 year old man who spent six months in a rehabilitation hospital recovering from injuries sustained in an automobile accident after texting while driving. While crossing a bridge, he lost control of his vehicle, plunging 35 feet into a ravine. The near fatal injuries included a broken neck, punctured lung, and broken bones in his face, skull, leg, ribs, and sternum. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury – forever changing his life. Rescue workers had to revive him three times at the scene. Ironically, the last text he sent to his friend said “I need to quit texting because I could die in a car accident and then how would you feel?”
Is it worth it? This 21 year old was lucky. Many are not so lucky. As an attorney I have represented thousands of families who have suffered serious injuries due to distracted driving. Often these injuries are fatal. As the father of four, I worry about the safety of my children. My oldest recently received his Beginner’s Permit and has begun driving. While these are stressful times, we are doing our best as parents to instill in him personal responsibility, trustworthiness and reliability. We know that these are essential if he is going to be allowed on the road behind the wheel of a car without adult supervision. We insist that he follow all of the Rules of the Road and adhere to all safety rules during his practice times behind the wheel. While observing him practice it is easy to see how even the smallest of distractions can be a problem.
Like many of you, our lives get crazy this time of year. The new school year brings with it the added concerns of new schedules, new routines, and yes new drivers. Kids are walking to school, waiting for buses and riding their bikes. We are busy getting our kids to school on time, picking them up on time and transporting them to various after school activities. Our schedules are packed with many commitments and obligations, all of which can become serious distractions for drivers. Add the dreaded cell phone to the mix and we have a recipe for disaster.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently found that distracted driving was a key factor in 18 percent of all fatal car crashes in 2010. These accidents were responsible for 3,331 deaths in the United States. The study found that essentially there are six types of distracted driving. Specifically:
• Cellphone use/Texting
• Interactions with children or other occupants
• Reaching for an object (Radio/MP3)
• Eating or drinking
Many of us are guilty of some, if not all of the above. However, the study revealed that in 2010, just three years ago, cellphone use accounted for 12 percent of those distracted driving fatalities. That is an alarming number given the growth of cellphone use since the study was conducted. We are seemingly always connected to the outside world. In addition to text messages, Facebook updates, Twitter tweets and personal emails all come directly to our cell phones. Rather than being connected to the road ahead of us, we easily get distracted by our dependence on these little devices.
As the debate goes on in states, counties and municipalities over the virtue of cell phone bans in vehicles, we must remember that bans alone will not solve the problem. Every individual in a community is responsible for its safety. The well-being of our children depends on us. As our kids head back to school we are all consumed with juggling the new obligations that returning to the classroom brings. When considering using your cell phone while driving, it’s imperative you ask yourself the important question: “Is it worth it?” I encourage all of us to take time to get where you’re going safely and responsibly. Be mindful of the children waiting for buses, alert for those walking or on bicycles and keep a close eye on the road ahead. Most importantly, turn off that cell phone or ignore that familiar ring tone because …when all else is said and done … It can wait.