You Got One Message!

June 10, 2014

It is summer and many people take to the road. One of the most successful public health campaigns has been convincing people that seat belts save lives. While there are some people who still chose not to wear them despite the overwhelming evidence that they do prevent fatal injuries, it is now a common practice for most people to “buckle up” when they get into their vehicles.  If you practice this action, you got the message.

Another important motor vehicle safety campaign began with cell phone use and has been extended to include any form of “distracted driving.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in the US, 9 people are killed and 1,020 are injured every day in crashes that involve a distracted driver. CDC defines distracting driving as “driving while doing another activity that takes your attention from driving.”

This can include talking on a cell phone, reading an email, eating, putting on make-up, using a navigation system and/or texting. Texting is particularly dangerous because it involves taking the eyes off the road and the hands off the wheel. A 2011 CDC study found that 69% of drivers aged 18-64 had talked on a cell phone while driving and 31% of that same group had read or sent a text in the 30 days prior to being surveyed. While young people under age 20 are at greater risk for a motor vehicle accident due to texting, anyone can be involved. (Recently in my own family, a close member totaled his car while reading a text while driving. Imagine explaining that to his two young adult children! Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.) You may think you are in total control and reading that email or sending a text is something you can handle, but it only takes a few seconds of distracted driving to result in a crash.

As a daily commuter, I see many people texting while driving. It is frightening if you are on the highway and they are behind you. Furthermore, there are many people, who although they are using “hands-free” cell phones are distracted by the conversation they are carrying on and not paying attention to the traffic around them.

You got the first message about seat belts and safety. Public health urges you to take the distracted driving message to heart. Texts and email messages can wait until you can pull over and read and respond to them safely. The “it won’t happen to me” mentality can prove to be life-changing or even fatal.

For those who remain unconvinced, consider these questions (or share with someone you know who drives distracted): Is that text worth:

  • The cost of a new car or losing income due to days lost at work?
  • Not being able to walk, talk, feed, bathe, dress, or drive yourself? 
  • Having to learn to do the daily activities you do now all over again?
  • Paralysis for life?   
  • Losing your financial independence?
  • The anxiety you will cause your family?

Practice safe driving this summer and throughout the year. For more information on distracted driving, Quinnipiack Valley Health District residents can call 203 248-4528 or request by email, dculligan@qvhd.org.