Being a responsible driver
Since their invention a little more than a century ago, automobiles have become integral to the workings of modern civilization. Cars and trucks are ubiquitous in industrialized countries like the United States of America, to the extent that motor vehicles are largely taken for granted. How many drivers get into their cars and, before starting their engines, consider that they will soon be responsible for safely steering hundreds of pounds of metal, glass, plastic, rubber, and flammable fuel traveling at high speed? How many pedestrians walk along and across roads with an appropriate sense of fear and caution? Whatever your guess, the answer is “not nearly enough.”
More than 35,000 people—drivers, occupants, and pedestrians—were killed in vehicle crashes across the United States in 2015, but too few Americans afford automobiles the same respect they might give to other types of dangerous, heavy machinery.
Decades of public awareness campaigns have taught many American drivers that driving while under the influence of alcohol and drugs is risky behavior, because of the increased likelihood of collisions and because of the criminal punishments assigned to DUI violations. Driving while under the influence of any substance—alcohol or cannabis, prescribed or over-the-counter medicine—that causes drowsiness, slower reaction times, impaired hearing or vision, or clouded thinking is dangerous and irresponsible. This is a message that cannot be overstated, but it is one that most Americans are familiar with in the 21st century.
Now, in the age of smartphones and tablets, mp3 and portable DVD players; in the age of the Internet and a pace of life that moves as quickly as information can be texted, emailed, or streamed, the United States is confronting the rising specter of a dangerous trend in drivers across the country: distracted driving. Of the car crash fatalities in 2015, nearly ten percent (3,500 people) were killed as the result of distracted driving; and, if that number isn’t high enough to grab your attention, a whopping 391,000 people were injured in distracted driving car crashes that same year.
Distracted driving isn’t new. Driving while eating, talking to passengers, getting dressed, and even crying is distracted driving, and drivers have likely been doing all of those things since automobiles first became commercially available. What our country is facing now is an increase in the available set of distracting behaviors (e.g., talking on the phone, texting, emailing, live streaming) and over a century of social familiarity with motor vehicles. Familiarity and better safety features make us feel that cars are generally safe—safe enough to justify engaging in the many distracting behaviors that, ironically, make vehicles and driving extremely unsafe.
What we need now is a cultural shift, one that sees distracted driving become as egregious a practice as driving drunk. Any distraction you would avoid while operating a table saw is a distraction you should also avoid while driving. Consider your health and safety, and that of your family and friends, every time that you find yourself behind the wheel of a car as you considered their happiness when you got one of the best car dvd players so everyone could enjoy it.
Commit to distraction-free driving for safer roads and communities.
Ask everyone you know to make the same commitment, and ask your passengers to hold you accountable to your commitment. Drive like your life depends on your undivided attention to the road for every second until you’ve reached your destination. Until we have reliable autonomous vehicles, every life on the road depends on exactly that.