We often hear and see warnings about dangers of distracted driving, but how many times do we really pay attention to what these messages are trying to say? On any given week, I probably spend about 20 hours on the highway—the roundtrip hike to my boyfriend’s house is about 145 miles, alone. There are routes that I know better than the creases on my palm, which is a dangerous reality that hit me last week when my friend jokingly referred to our weekly calls as my “ride home entertainment.” The high school version of me, who was president of my high school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapter, would have cringed at the thought.
Distracted driving is extremely dangerous, putting not just drivers and passengers in danger, but pedestrians and bicyclists as well. Types of distractions include texting, using a cell phone, eating/drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, reading maps, using a GPS, watching a video, and adjusting music. Texting alone requires all three levels of distracted driving, making it the most dangerous activity to encounter on the road.
Last year, there were more than 45,000 distracted driving crashes in Florida, resulting in more than 200 deaths and more than 39,000 injuries. That is a responsibility and guilt that I never want to have to live with, so I’ve started completely refraining from taking calls and listening to music while driving.
It bothers me is that it’s taken hundreds of reminders over the years for me to finally do this and I’m someone who has always been very aware of the consequences. I mean, I get it. Sometimes the only time we have to ourselves is the time spent in our cars. It also doesn’t help that our devices are set up to remind us of the dozens of things we are missing out on in the online world during the half hour we are disconnected. The constant buzz and pressure to be on is what makes drivers such a tough audience for health communicators.
Toward the end of Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April, I came across a really impactful video that reminded me just how scary it is to get on the road these days. The people behind The Hazards of Distracted Driving set up cameras all over I-95 in Florida (where I drive every day), filmed for 20 minutes at a time, and examined all 2,151 cars captured in the footage. The results were astounding! More than 8 percent of those drivers were doing something that diverted their attention from the road.
As health communicators we have to keep at it. Remember that these aren’t accidents; they are crashes that can be avoided. We have to be the disruption that finally gets through to someone to remind them to be more mindful of frivolous behavior like distracted driving.