Try this next time you’re a passenger riding in the car. Look around and count the number of drivers you see distracted by their cell phones – making phone calls, text messaging, checking email, using social media or browsing the web. Can you count nine?
Nine people are killed and more than 1,100 are injured every day in the United States due to distracted driving – such as using a cell phone behind the wheel – according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also found that nearly half of all U.S. high school students aged 16 years or older admitted to texting or emailing while driving.
“We talk to our daughter about how unsafe it is to use a cell phone while driving a vehicle all the time,” said Cincinnati Children’s employee Athena Muse, who is teaching her teenager Hannah how to drive. Hannah turns 16 in March and knows firsthand the dangers of distracted driving.
“Hannah was in the car with a friend on their way to school when they rear-ended someone because the driver was texting and driving and not paying attention,” Athena said. And because the teen driver of the vehicle behind them was also texting while driving, the accident caused a chain reaction of fender benders. No one was hurt, but Hannah’s friend’s license was suspended for six months and Hannah learned a valuable lesson, her mom said.
“Speak up for your own safety when you’re in the car with someone who is texting and driving,” Athena said.
Athena was one of about 200 Cincinnati Children’s employees who participated in a texting and driving simulation at the medical center on Tuesday, Feb. 16. The simulation was hosted by AT&T as part of the company’s “It Can Wait” campaign to educate teens and adults about the dangers of distracted driving.
“There are three components to distraction—visual, manual, and cognitive inattention to the task of driving,” said Stephanie Estes, an Injury Prevention Coordinator with the Comprehensive Children’s Injury Center (CCIC) at Cincinnati Children’s. “Texting is so dangerous because it involves all three components of distraction.”
Stephanie shared these CCIC tips and best practices for parents having the conversation with teens:
Speak up – Explain the dangers of distracted driving and encourage kids to speak up if they’re riding in a car with a driver who is not 100 percent concentrated on driving.
Put it away – Remove all distractions before you start the car. Turn your phone off while driving or put it on silent. Set a good example for passengers watching your driving behavior, no matter how young or old they are.
Ask for assistance – Ask a passenger to help you read driving directions, make a phone call or send a text. If you are a passenger, ask the driver what you can do to help him or her.
Pull over – In an emergency, pull over in a safe place and put the car in park before using the phone.
Avoid “hands free” technology – Research shows that cognitive distractions, which take your mind off of driving, can be just as dangerous as the visual and manual distractions that take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel.
Crystal Lindsey-Lopes, RN, didn’t get very far in the simulator before another car crashed into hers. In real life she uses her cell phone and her car every day while making in-home visits as a clinical coordinator with Home Care Services, but never at the same time. When she needs to use her phone for business while she’s on the road, Crystal said she always pulls over first.
“It’s not worth hitting someone from behind to read a few words,” she said. If she’s not working, Crystal puts the phone away or turns it off while she’s driving, especially when her two boys are in the car. “If kids are in the car they can be a distraction already, so there’s no reason to double down on the amount of things taking your attention off the road.”
If you love using technology and your will power could use a little boost, you can find a variety of smartphone apps that block or dissuade drivers from texting while on the road such as AT&T’s DriveMode, which silences alerts and can manage text messages while you drive.