by Zach Fincher
(This is the fourth in a month-long series of guest blog posts from National Safety Council survivor advocates. We are sharing our stories in honor of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.)
Car crashes are the number one killer of teens in America. Over 2,500 teens died in motor vehicle crashes in 2013, and more than 300,000 were involved in crashes that sent them to the emergency room, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
I myself will be taking to the roads soon as a teen driver, and I don’t find these statistics encouraging.
I’ve also lost a loved one because of a distracted driver. My nana was killed by someone who chose to drive and text. Recently my mom and I were invited to attend the National Safety Council's Survivor Advocate Panel Workshop on Distracted Driving. I’d like to drive home a few points we learned there.
Did you know that human error accounts as a critical reason for 94% of the car crashes in the U.S.? You’d think focusing one's attention on driving would be a no-brainer, but we are programmed to deceive ourselves: Our inability to control our strong desire to answer a call or a text, as our devices ring, chirp or vibrate, makes us a lot like Pavlov’s dogs.
“The majority of Americans (88.5%) feel that a driver talking on a cell phone represents a somewhat or serious threat to their personal safety,” says a study on AAA.com. “That proportion increases to 95.7% and 95.1%, respectively, with regards to drivers text-messaging or e-mailing behind the wheel and drivers checking or updating social media.”
Many teens feel pressured by friends and family to drive distracted, according to a new study. Please consider not calling or texting your teen when you know they are driving. Make it a rule to keep your friends and family safe by waiting for them to call or text you after they've reached their destination.
This is just a small portion of what we learned at the NSC conference. We were trained there to share our stories so that others may consider the real consequences of driving distracted. We met with others at this workshop who had gone through a personal loss from a distracted driving-caused crash or who had been in a distracted driving–caused crash themselves.
Help stop this epidemic. Think of others, if not yourself. Don’t become another statistic.
Please don’t drive distracted. #TakeBackYourDrive
Zach Fincher is a high school student in the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his mother, Debbi, father, Brad, and brother, Luke (Debbi wrote "Hope for the Human Spirit" a few weeks ago). Since grade school Zach has been involved in the San Juan Island Prevention Coalition (sjipc.org), whose mission is to reduce substance abuse among youth and create a community culture for healthy choices for youth and adults. When his nana was tragically killed in a distracted driving–caused car crash in 2011, Zach and his mother became committed to advocating distracted driving awareness. At his county fair, Zach designed a course for remote control cars and asked fairgoers to attempt to "drive" the RC while he would distract them. This activity was popular with his peers, who tried to complete the course (by the way, none of them ever could without going off it!). Then SJIPC collaborated on a project with Zach, other teens interested in preventing distracted driving fatalities and Sam Leigh, the owner and operator of Right of Way Driving School. They created a booth at the county fair where they asked people to look at the last message they'd texted from behind the wheel and then text it over again while walking down a 100-foot chalk line on the fair's midway. Then Zach, Sam and the teens did a mathematical calculation based on the speed of the road the texter would have been driving on and how far they would have driven without looking up. Just seeing how far they'd walked while texting was startling enough for the participants, but when they realized that, in some instances, they would have traveled the length of a football field before looking up, that really got them to pause and question what they were doing. Zach also helped spearhead a Distracted Driver Simulator to come to his high school, so students could “test-drive” a text-and-drive ride. The students were quizzed before and after their "test-drive" about texting and driving. By the end of the day, over 86% of the students said they would never text and drive again, because they couldn't believe how poorly they'd performed.