When I was younger, I couldn’t wait to start driving. When I turned exactly 15 years and 9 months old, I pestered my mother until she took me to the local DMV to take the test for my learner’s permit. I passed with flying colors. I could finally get behind the wheel.
But it wasn’t until I turned 16 and got my provisional driver’s license, allowing me to drive without anyone else in the car, that I really got that first taste of freedom.
I remember driving through the community on the way to the store. My first trip to the store all by myself. I had a bit of a freak out moment because I couldn’t believe I was actually driving the car all by myself. It was exhilarating.
I spent most of my junior and senior year of high school driving a beast of a vehicle that had an iffy engine and a radio that wouldn’t work.
Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.
I couldn’t really drive fast (my jeep wouldn’t get up and GO) or erratically (it was known for backfiring and stalling). And I drove mostly in silence. As a result, I think I became a focused and conscientious driver that didn’t take one minute on the road for granted.
I didn’t fall into the typical teen traps of thinking I was invincible on the road. I actually believed I could die. I closely studied the films in driver’s ed class showing the van full of teenagers that never made it to their prom.
If it wasn’t drinking and dying, it was speeding and dying that scared me. And I carried those fears with me over the next few decades.
But then, a shift that happened. I’ve realized I’ve chosen to ignore my fears. And I’ve taken my focus off of the road.
It’s easy to do. We carry our cell phones with us wherever we go. For many of us, they’re like lifelines. It’s our email, our texts, our Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest and Instagram and it just can’t seem to wait while we’re in the car. At least, that’s how it’s been for me.
Now, I’m going to scare you a little bit and it’s what I want to do.
Recently, I was a guest of Toyota at the Lifesavers Conference in Denver. I took away a lot of information, but here’s what impacted me the most.
- Car crashes are the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 5 and 24.
- There are 35,000 deaths every year due to car crashes. That’s like a plane crashing every single day for a year killing 100 people.
- Of these crashes, 70% are attributable to human error.
Most of those errors come from distracted driving. Distraction means visual (keep your eyes on the road), mechanical (keep your hands on the wheel), and cognitive (keep your brain focused on driving). I wish I could show you some of the videos I saw. The ones that really spoke to me. I couldn’t find them but I did want you to watch a clip that we saw (I took this one from the Today Show).
If you’re like me, you’re probably shaking your head going, “What was he thinking? He’s driving a bus! On the highway!”But the cognitive psychologist in the room didn’t state the obvious. Instead he asked, “Why didn’t the bus driver see the stopped traffic? Why didn’t he slow down?”
The bus driver did see the traffic but he suffered from change blindness. His eyes were moving from the phone to the road in such a quick manner that his brain was never able to cognitively catch up. He literally was blind to the stopped traffic even though he was looking right at it.
Here’s where it’s time for a confession.
I could be that bus driver. I’ve texted and email and tweeted from the car while I’m driving.
Yes, I’m okay with you publicly shaming me for it. I wanted to write about it, though, because I suspect there are other people like me.
I’m very careful.
I don’t do it with my kids in the car.
Never on a two lane road.
Never on a two lane road if a car is coming.
It’s okay if I use voice to text.
Here’s another thing I learned.
Our brain’s best ability is self-deception.
I’m no better than anybody else when it comes to cognitive functioning. At least, not when it comes to distracted driving. I learned the science behind it and I get it now. I get that “even if I’m really careful,” it’s not okay.
But what really changed me was listening to all of the experts who then closed each conversation with the specifics of the distracted driving crash that killed their child.
Not only could I not bear losing my child but to lose them at the carelessness of somebody else’s hand? More importantly, what if I was the one that took someone’s life because I just had to tweet out a funny one-liner. Would it be worth it?
Needless to say, I walked away feeling embarrassed. Embarrassed that I had ever been so stupid as to think I’m invincible.
And to all those people out there whose lives I put at risk without you ever knowing, I apologize.
So often these distracted driving messages are aimed at teens but as parents, we need to be the ones setting the right example.
While in Denver I met Joel Feldman, a Pennsylvania lawyer who founded EndDD.org. While we were talking, I saw a beautiful picture of his daughter, Casey, behind him. It was then that I knew why he had founded the organization. He introduced me to the concept of post-traumatic growth and showed me how so many parents, like himself, are able to take a tragic loss and turn it into something that has a profound impact on others.
His organization focuses not on the behaviors we shouldn’t do while driving but those that we should. I encourage you to take the pledge along with me so we can make a difference.
Adapted from EndDD.org