Nationally, 5,870 people died in 2008 crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and 515,000 were injured, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
A year ago tomorrow, my mother may have joined those ranks. We’ll never know the real cause of the April 26, 2009, wreck that claimed her life four days later, but it’s truly chilling to think that being a distracted driver may have played a part in the one-car accident.
Are you a distracted driver?
I am at times.
To be clear, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines a distracted driver as someone talking or texting on a cell phone, conversing with passengers, eating, smoking, manipulating dashboard controls or reaching for something inside the vehicle.
In Odessa, I’d add reading and putting on makeup to this list. Maybe even playing air guitar (or air drums etc.) should get on there.
And before you think I’m getting too high on my horse, understand that I’m guilty of some of these things as well. There was the day when I’d pull over to answer the cell phone. Now, I’m guilty of texting at 50 mph from time to time.
But, I’m going to work on it. I’m going to try and change.
This all comes to mind because Friday — in addition to being the one-year anniversary of my mom’s death — has been anointed "No Phone Zone Day" by Oprah Winfrey. Departments of transportation in Texas and New Mexico are both in the long line of entities joining Oprah in calling for people to put down their cell phones while in the car for a day.
Also joining the call are the U.S. Department of Transportation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Governors Highway Safety Association, the National Organizations for Youth Safety, FocusDriven, SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and RADD, the entertainment industry’s voice for road safety.
And if your knee-jerk reaction is, "Don’t tell me what to do," then you really should keep reading.
Here are some TxDOT-issued statistics:
>> Motorists who text messages while driving are six times more likely to crash than those who don’t text while driving.
>> Using a cell phone while driving, whether it’s hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent.
>> Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent.
>> Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves.
>> Nationally, an estimated 21 percent of 1,630,000 injury crashes and 16 percent of all fatal crashes were reported to have involved distracted driving.
>> In Texas, 42 percent of urban teens and 48 percent of rural teens text while driving; 46 percent of urban teens and 52 percent of rural teens talk on a cell phone while driving.
Some are quick to point out that it is not against the law for an adult to use a hand-held device while driving. (House Bill 339, effective Sept. 1, 2009, prohibits drivers under the age of 18 with restricted licenses from using wireless communications devices, including cell phones and text messaging devices.)
The state doesn’t really have to weigh in though. It’s more like Darwinian law.