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Driving under the influence of technology

The phone rings. You answer it. After all, every call is important, right?

Same thing with a text message, or an alert from social media. Many of us live on an electronic leash these days, unable to take our eyes away from our mobile devices for very long at all, even when we know it can cause injury to ourselves or someone else.

As I was driving last week, I sat in the turn lane of a highway waiting to make a left turn when I heard a loud crash. Directly to my right, a pickup truck rear-ended an SUV. When I looked over, I saw the driver of that truck was holding a cell phone in his hand. This wasn’t someone calling for help, because it was probably five seconds or less after the impact. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised.

If you spend much time on the road, which I do, you may notice a lot of people looking at their phones while driving. It’s become a very dangerous habit that many people practice. In my opinion, it’s probably more dangerous than other forms of distracted or impaired driving because the use of mobile devices like our phones is more common than some of the other things that can impair a driver. While many will stay far away from drugs and alcohol, nearly everyone has a phone or other mobile device these days. I don’t say that to diminish the dangers of driving while impaired by drugs and alcohol, but simply to point out that there are more users of one impairing item than the other.

After seeing this accident up-close and personal, I started thinking about how often these must happen. I learned through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that in 2019, the latest stats reported indicate that 3,142 people lost their lives due to distracted driving. That’s more than 8 percent of all fatalities in motor vehicle accidents, which totaled 36,096 in 2019. According to the NHTSA, distracted driving includes talking and/or texting on a phone, as well as eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, adjusting a radio or navigation system, or anything else that takes your attention away from the road.

The NHTSA points out that sending a text can take a driver’s eyes off the road for about five seconds. In that time, traveling at 55 miles per hour, a vehicle will cover more the length of a football field, which is 100 yards, or 300 feet. Covering that much distance without watching the road leaves room for tragedy.

I’ll admit that I’m guilty of doing it myself. We’re all busy these days, and missing a call or text seems so important to us at the moment that we forget about the potential for causing a life-altering and irreversible crash.

Many vehicles today feature the ability to have our phones connect to the audio of our car’s entertainment system, and using these hands-free options can be helpful, but we still need to stay focused on the road and the vehicles around us.

Personally, I’m trying to be more aware of my use of my phone while driving and reduce it, and even eliminate it altogether. When you consider human lives are at stake, it makes that call or text seem very insignificant.