I Think The Driver Who Hit Me Was Distracted. Does That Matter?

I saw in this morning’s AJC an article on the front page about distracted driving. Unfortunately, the article reports that distracted driving has gone up, that roadway deaths on Georgia roads have increased by a third and that distracted driving may very well be to blame for that increase.  Online today I also read of the tragic death of a Roswell High School student from a car wreck with another teenager Saturday night.  We do not yet know what caused this tragic accident.

As the mother of a 20 year old college student and a 17 year old senior in high school, both of whom drive on a regular basis, this is the sort of news that leads to a lot of sleepless nights. I know you parents out there can sympathize. The question is what can we do to reduce the number of such highway deaths? Has distracted driving made a difference?

Most of us may think of “distracted driving” being solely texting while driving (something I labeled “TWD” years ago).  Texting While Driving is now illegal in Georgia (and has been since 2010) and in 45 states total. 14 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving.  That means simply making telephone calls on your mobile phone while driving is illegal, much less texting while driving. But what is the distinction between texting while driving and calling while driving?  Is there one?  Can’t punching in someone’s cell phone number while driving be just as distracting as texting a message while driving? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2012 driver distraction was the cause of 18 percent of all fatal crashes – with 3,328 people killed – and crashes resulting in an injury – with 421,000 people wounded. 

In Georgia, the number of teens killed in 2012 went down to 23 in 2012 from 37 in 2011. This is half the number of teen drivers killed ten years earlier when more than 45 teen drivers were killed on Georgia roadways.

What about other distractions in the car?  Eating?  Drinking (even just water)?  This year in Cobb Co. a driver was arrested for distracted driving for eating a hamburger while driving. That case has since been dismissed.  Distracted is distracted. I’m not sure there is a huge difference between being distracted from driving while talking on the cell phone versus texting while driving. Some studies suggest, however, that texting is inherently more dangerous than talking on a cell phone because with talking you (theoretically) keep your eyes on the road all the time. Other studies seem to suggest there is not a material difference in the device used to distract a driver; the outcome is the same.

It is obvious we must remain vigilant.  Don’t allow a driver of a car in which you are a passenger ever to text while driving. And if the driver won’t listen to you, ask to be let out of the car and call a cab or Uber.  Sure, your friend may get mad at you but better to have a mad friend than be killed from distracted driving. Discuss the subject with your family. In my family, we have all agreed not to text while driving. We have also agreed that if we know  a family member is behind the wheel not to text that person. It can wait. My daughter has suggested that we all text “X” to the rest of the family when we start to drive a car to let everyone know “Hey, I am going to be driving for the next little while so don’t send me a text.”  So far that suggestion is a work in progress.  I simply cannot always remember to do it before I begin to drive.   Communication is critical.  It may save your child’s life.  And it may save your child from taking another person’s life.