It seemed like an ordinary afternoon for Max Chambers, a former student and classmate from my high school, who was driving to visit his grandmother in Florida, until the day took an unexpected turn of events.
The thing is, Max didn’t make it to his destination because he passed away from a critical condition in the hospital as a result of the car crash he was in. Max was driving in his lane when a teenage female took the wrong turn and had a head on collision. How could this happen!? Did she not see his car!? The teenager was distracted by her phone. That call or that text could have waited… She could have waited…
When you are ready to get your first car, one of the aspects that you take into consideration is safety. You want a car that is safe for you to drive, safe for those that you will be joining on the road, but we have to keep in mind that- most of the time- the biggest threat to the other drivers is not the car itself, but the drivers themselves.
Motor vehicle safety has become a 20th century public health achievement. The number of miles travelled on the road today is 10 times higher than it was in the mid-1920s. Despite this drastic increase, the death rate has declined from 18 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 1925 to 1.7 per 100 million VMT in 1997. The motorization of America was a huge advancement for motor vehicle safety. There were stricter regulations that the state and local governments enacted, community-based advocacy groups were coming together and participated in road safety, and education has helped increase safer behavior change.
Although there have been significant changes in making our roads safer, it is still a working progress. Is it just me or does anyone else see the occasional woman trying to put her mascara on while driving and heading to work? Or what about the exhausted mother half-way turning her body and head to tell her child to stop crying and yelling?
There are many causes of motor vehicle accidents such as driving while intoxicated, falling asleep behind the wheel, or even aggressive driving. However, the leading cause of car accidents is distracted driving. In the United Sates, 25%-50% of all motor vehicle crashes are due to distracted driving. The device that has significantly changed the way we communicate with others has not only become an addiction, but it has also become the silent killer and culprit of car accidents.
I am not going to pretend that I have NEVER used my cell phone while I was driving. I have found myself looking down at my phone more than once for directions while using driving apps like Google Maps or Waze. I’ll admit it- I do not have the greatest sense of direction, and believe me, I will get lost if I don’t have one of these apps helping me navigate to wherever I am going. Seriously! I almost ended up in the state of Alabama when all I wanted to do was go to one of the Outlet Malls of the state of Georgia!
The city of Atlanta in the state of Georgia has become one of the busiest cities in the state. In fact, Atlanta has had the fourth highest populous growth from 2017-2018. This increase means more people on the roads which increases the rate of potential car accidents. More than 1,720 drivers are involved in Georgia car accidents every day.
Georgia along with 15 other states in the U.S., has taken action to reducing car crashes due to cellphone use while driving. The Georgia General Assembly has passed the Georgia Hands-Free Law, which is a law that has gone into effect since 2018. The other 15 states that have passed hands-free driving laws saw a 16% decrease in traffic fatalities in the two years after the law was passed.
Although motor vehicle accidents occur in the United States, it is a world-wide public health issue. Approximately 14% of people killed on European roads are aged between 18 and 24. Furthermore, elderly fatalities rose from 22% in 2010 to 27% in 2017. Injuries from traffic accidents lead to over 1.2 million deaths every year around the world, and are the ninth cause of death among all age groups at global level. In 2030, injuries sustained in traffic accidents will be the fifth major cause of death around the world.
Mobile use while driving is also a problem in Europe. European countries have also taken action by creating and using their mobile phone driving ban. In Eastern Europe, the fine for contravening the mobile phone driving ban is under €50 – a lot in those countries. The fines get even higher in Western Europe.
While big efforts have been made in the policy level where governments have made stricter regulations and passed laws, education plays a vital role in teaching our drivers to be safe out there. A program that has emerged is Cifal Madrid RACE, which focuses on training and capacity building revolving around road safety. They have created online courses, workshops, conferences, and even degrees to achieve the goal of reducing accidents on the roads.
We have so many people creating innovative resources for everyone to help with road safety and bring awareness to this issue. In addition to the hand-free laws, we have devices such as the mobile mounts for cars that allow you to place your phone on your dash and still be able to look at the road. It all starts with initiative, education, and choices. You don’t want to be responsible for someone’s critical injury or death like the teenager who contributed to Max’s death. Do you?
So, be a SMART driver, DON’T take your eyes off the road, don’t take that RISK, and remember…. IT can wait.
Congratulations María! Thanks so much for writing about this issue. Your article really caught my eye. It has a catchy title, continued by a good introduction to the topic and very well developed. It shocked me finding out how a teenager lost his life in a crash accident due to a girl who was driving distractly because of her phone, how unfair!
Mobile distraction seems to be the main responsible cause for car accidents, although I felt glad to read that most countries have taken into consideration this world-wide Public Health problem. They have taken action by regulations, like the Hands-Free-Law or the fines in Europe, as you explained.
However, even hands-free phones, which you might think reduces the risk of a car crash, are not that much safer.
Reaction time is slowed down near 40%, which is three times more than drinking and driving when surfing social media on your phone while driving.
Nevertheless, I reckon mobile distraction, not only affects drivers, but also pedestrians. In fact, there are some places where you can be fined if you walk the crosswalk while looking the phone, or any other smart device, for example in Honolulu(https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/10/25/559980080/honolulus-distracted-walking-law-takes-effect-targeting-phone-users).
In New York, they were proposing similar law to ban pedestrians from looking at their cellphones, with the aim to decrease the number of deaths due to mobile distractions in walkers. The fine could be up to 250 dollars in the most serious cases where security is put at risk.
In 2015, injuries related to cell-phone in a street/highway were estimated to be 2496 out of 70000 pedestrian injuries.
Notwithstanding, as far as I´m concerned, what we should do is educate population about this issue, make people aware of the importance of road safety (as a pedestrian as well as a driver), rather than passing banning laws.
In conclusion, as you said, everything can wait as long as human life is in the road.
Muchas gracias por tu artículo, me ha parecido muy interesante. Personalmente creo que es un tema en el que sigue haciendo falta concienciar a la población, como muestras en los distintos datos que recoges en el artículo, por muchas medidas que tomemos, las cifras de accidentes de tráficos siguen siendo alarmantes y lo peor es que muchos de ellos serían evitables si se tomaran medidas de seguridad adecuadas. Medidas de seguridad que son sencillas y están a la mano de cualquier conductor, como por ejemplo no coger el móvil mientras uno va conduciendo.
Por otro lado, me ha gustado especialmente cómo has englobado todo el tema de la conducción segura y respeto de las normas de tráfico en una frase tan sencilla como es «puede esperar». Creo que es una frase sencilla y directa que invita a la reflexión.
Hoy día es raro no ver a las personas a paso ligero por la calle. Siempre hay un sitio al que uno llega tarde, un trabajo que tiene que entregar al día siguiente, un producto que necesita comprar con urgencia, etc. Por eso, personalmente considero que para una sociedad como la nuestra es importante invertir tiempo en concienciar a la población sobre el hecho de que:
• Podemos ir más despacio.
• No es necesario correr tanto.
• Rara vez surge una situación tan urgente que verdaderamente no pueda esperar.
Y no ya solo en el ámbito de la conducción, en la que es una lección VITAL porque puede llegar a costarle la vida a una persona, como ilustras con la historia de Max. Sino también en otros ámbitos de nuestra vida diaria. En el trabajo, en las relaciones, con la familia, con nosotros mismos. Creo que podemos y muchas veces también, debemos esperar, tomarnos un tiempo para respirar y ver qué está pasando realmente para poder actuar de manera responsable, en el momento justo o un poco más tarde, porque sí, prácticamente todo puede esperar.
María, what a pertinent topic! The text is extremely well written and with an ease of flow between distinct topics that all contribute to avoidable road traffic accidents with victims, injuries and deaths. How outrageous is it that in 2016, the fifth cause of death in the EU was traffic accidents?
I’m truly sorry to read that someone’s life was tragically, and needlessly taken by someone checking their phone. I am sure your colleagues would appreciate the fact that you are voicing this issue and making a call to action!
I was totally taken by surprise when I got told off for walking in the streets while reading a text message. This happened in Baguio, in the Philippines. They were right. I was committing a crime. I was informed by the medical students that I was with, that just this very year a new law had been passed by the city government, which made it illegal to use mobile phones while walking and crossing the streets, and also sidewalks anywhere and everywhere in Baguio. I found this pretty extreme until I learnt there was also an anti-profanity ordinance.
In the Philippines distracted driving is a MASSIVE problem. The traffic in that country is considered one of the worst in the world. A study reported that Filipinos in Manila spend an hour and six minutes each day stuck in traffic, so that’s about 16 days’ time per year. So, what do they do while stuck in traffic? They use their phone. And then when that becomes a habit, the taboo is gone and distracted driving has become a deep-rooted problem in the Philippines. The fines are very heavy and by the 4th time this happens their license will be revoked. Meanwhile, in the city of Baguio the fourth offense for distracted walking can land you in prison from 11 to up to 30 days. This goes to show that even within the same country the lawmakers are overwhelmed by this colossal problem and most of proposed solutions are social experiments.
There is an additional topical I would like to raise: the addiction to social media platforms and related phone usage – Dopamine-driven short-term feedback loops. Not only is intensive smartphone use associated with an increased risk of car injury or death but also with higher levels of anxiety, depressive symptoms and decrease in sleep quality. Smartphones can provide us with an instant and theoretically unlimited amount of stimuli. Every ring, every vibration, every like or notification could be a positive social stimulus and give you that hit of Dopamine that you are unknowingly craving. It is not cocaine, but it is easier to consume and socially accepted. It could and should wait, but we have become addicts and we need to handle this as a societal problem.
Thank you for bringing up this topic. I also think that this might be one of the most serious current problems that our society is facing. It is surely not being dealt with effectively. Let’s put our heads together and brainstorm about distracted driving as a Public Health Threat and about how it should be dealt with!