Nearly 28% of crashes, some 1.6 million per year according to the National Safety Council, can be attributed to drivers who are talking on cell phones or texting. Crossing the intersection of Clement Street and Arguello Blvd in San Francisco an hour or so ago I almost made it 1.6 million plus one: driver on phone, self on foot, alert driver blasted horn at talking driver with whom I thought I’d made eye contact (apparently not) or this space would’ve been toast. Are we a nation of nuts, or what?
The issue has gotten the attention of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the Orthopaedic Trauma Association, folks who see the reality of these abstract statistics every day. The two groups have joined forces to launch a print and PSA campaign designed to staunch the wound.
The campaign features a bloody, shattered windshield accompanied by the words: OMG! Get the message. Texting while driving is a deadly distraction.
It’s definitely time. According to the AAOS release, “general statistics on distracted driving are startling:
- 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of near crashes involve some type of distraction. (Source: Virginia Tech 100-car study for NHTSA)
- Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than half a million were injured. (NHTSA)
- The worst offenders are the youngest and least-experienced drivers: men and women under 20 years of age. (NHTSA)
- Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. (Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)
Wall Street Journal “Driver’s Seat” blogger Jonathan Welsh posted a commentary somewhat courageously including himself in the Bad Guy category in discussing the billboard camapaign:
So, when did you stop texting behind the wheel? It’s a loaded question, but appropriate for many if not most of us. I don’t think I know anyone with a mobile phone and a driver’s license who doesn’t tap out the occasional message while driving.
In the era of multitasking and rapid communication, driving and texting are a tempting combination. Too bad it’s so dangerous.
“To say this habit can be deadly is the truth. It is an outcome we unfortunately see every day,” said AAOS president John J. Callaghan. “The problem with the use of 24/7 communications devices is that every driver believes he or she is immune to slip ups, but isn’t.”
Of course many people are so immersed in typing or reading their handheld screens that they might miss the billboards as they drive past. We have all seen — or even performed — outrageous driving maneuvers after distractions caused us to stray from our lane, miss an exit or nearly run a red light. I find that once I get over the initial anger I always feel at least a touch of empathy.
This space feels no empathy at all. It’s easy to be righteous when you never got into the phoning/texting/driving habit, and easy not to have done so if you were grew up in the dark ages before cell phones were invented.
Still, staying alive is good. I hope the lady driving the beige SUV through the intersection of Clement and Arguello gets the message before it’s too late.