It shouldn’t take knowing a friend who has died in a car accident or listening to a parent talk about their child’s tragic death to motivate us to set aside bad driving habits, but many of us don’t think twice about distractions behind the wheel.
Feeling my phone vibrate in my pocket, I reach down to see who texted me, press the home button, swipe my finger across the screen and glance at the text message. I look up and realize I missed my turn. I am one of the lucky ones who didn’t die as a result of drifting off to the side of the road, hitting a tree. Nor am I the young driver who lost control of his car, hitting an oncoming vehicle because of focusing on a friend’s texted questions, killing a mother and her toddler. I am an 18-year-old behind the wheel of a moving car in one of the nation’s most highly trafficked areas, whose luck has kept him off the evening news, but it’s time to wake up.
What is it going to take for us to collectively make an effort to drive safely and protect ourselves, not to mention other drivers on the road? According to an article in the Washington Post on Feb. 17, by staff writer Ashley Halsey III, “More teenagers die in automobile accidents than any other way each year.” This statistic is confirmed by the Allstate Foundation’s website, a website promoting safe driving which puts the number of young driver deaths at 4,000.
In a December, 2011, report titled ‘License to Save,’ the Allstate Foundation and the National Safety Council answer two questions those in the business of traffic safety have spent more than ten years puzzling over: “How many lives and how many dollars could be saved through stronger teen driving laws, commonly known as graduated driver licensing (GDL)?”
Starting in the year 2000, 81,000 people died in crashes that involved young drivers; this is equivalent to the deaths that would be caused by 540 airplane crashes. That’s a lot of bodies! An MSNBC article by M. Alex Johnson, published Dec. 6, 2011, cites insurance and safety advocates as saying restrictions on teenage driver’s licenses could save 2,000 lives and billions of dollars each year. That’s just one GDL component. Raising the driving age to 18 is another and placing bans on cell phone use and texting while driving.
The Joint Report asserts that if a state added just one GDL component, the result would be 4 percent fewer fatal crashes; this reduction grows to 10 percent with two or three GDL components, and improves with four components to 21 percent. If a state enhances its GDL program to include five or more components, the annual reduction in young driver fatalities would likely increase substantially to 38 percent. That’s almost 1,600 young lives spared each year by enforcing some common sense rules.
In the absence of tougher laws for young drivers, we can do our part to protect ourselves. The Allstate Foundation advises that being a passenger in another teen’s car puts you at risk. If a friend’s driving makes you uncomfortable, don’t bite your tongue. Speaking up or getting out of the car could save your life. More than half of teens talk on cell phones while driving and 13 percent read or write text messages while behind the wheel. Is this you? Two-thirds of teens who die in car accidents fail to use seat belts. Are you buckled up? Driving between 9 p.m. and midnight doubles your crash risk. Do you drive late at night? Adding one male passenger to your car doubles your risk of a crash. The more friends you drive around, the greater the risk. How many risk factors are stacked against you?
GDL might seem like an inconvenience, but shattered legs and broken necks are far greater inconveniences. Chances are the text that’s causing your phone to vibrate can wait the five minutes it takes to get to your destination. Chances are that if it isn’t ignored, you may not reach your destination at all.
Be a friend for life by taking the Allstate Foundation’s Keep the Drive pledge: “Not one of my friends will get hurt or die in a car crash. Not when I’m behind the wheel. And not when I’m a passenger in their car. I will drive for our freedom, for all the cool things we have planned, and for our futures. If I’m a passenger, I will defy peer pressure, I will speak up, and I will always have their back.”