It was sunny and dry on the Merritt Parkway. Approaching traffic, I slowed to a stop. Then: brakes squealing, metal crashing. The car behind me lurched forward. I accelerated. Fortunately, the car in front had moved, and I escaped with just a bump to my bumper.
I didn’t get hurt. But someone probably did.
In favorable conditions, no one should ruin their car, day, life or someone else’s, if they’re paying attention. But, during the day, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 660,000 people use their phones while driving. Most likely, the accident-causing driver on the Merritt that day was irresponsibly fiddling with their phone.
Distracted driving is a “national epidemic” and “the biggest danger on the roads,” according to the NHTSA and AAA, respectively, needlessly killing 20,000 people in the past five years; in 2016, it injured more than 400,000 and killed nearly 3,500.
Now, different behaviors do distract drivers, like grooming and eating and salacious billboards. And while distracted driving accidents did drop 2 percent in 2016, more people will die from distracted driving as more people text: OSHA estimates that distracted driving fatalities increase 75 percent with every additional million text messages sent.
What can be done? Numerous organizations, including AT&T, OSHA, the National Safety Council and AAA, are spreading the obvious message that distracted driving kills through advertising campaigns; law enforcement has cracked down on offenses; and automakers, following National Auto Alliance guidelines, are modifying designs intended to lessen distractions, according to the New York Times.
This terrifying epidemic is being fought on multiple fronts. But, what we are clearly failing to do is educate young, impressionable drivers – and remind jaded ones – of the plain fact that a car can be used to kill; that it is a deadly weapon. And anyone wielding a weapon must understand their great potential to accidentally cause tremendous harm.
Gun owners renewing permits must take a course. Even teachers and coaches must, at first, continually take classes to retain their license. But, all you need to renew a driver’s license is proof of identification and cash.
That’s changing in Texas, and other states should follow suit.
In Texas, new drivers must complete an hour-long distracted-driving awareness course, and soon adult drivers will have to do so, too. The NSC has created 45- and 90-minute-long online courses. This April, the government will spend $5 million on its “U Text U Drive U Pay” ad campaign. Billboards are okay. But, some of that money would be better spent subsidizing the cost of administering nationwide those online courses for driver-license renewals.
It couldn’t hurt. At least not as much as being hit by a driver checking Facebook.