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Distracted Driving

By: Kathleen Thomas

I have grown up in a generation where cell phones are attached to people’s hips.  While the convenience of a cell phone has brought many advantages, it comes with disadvantages as well.  Driving requires a large amount of concentration and judgment from those individuals behind the wheel.  Cell phone use can lead to unsafe and distracted driver behavior when dialing and answering the phone, and during the conversation that takes place over the phone.  If I was able to change one law, it would be to make talking on a cell phone while driving illegal in the United States.

Cell phones are a leading cause of distracted driving and cause or contribute to numerous preventable car accidents.  According to the Unites States government, it is estimated that at any given moment, approximately 660,000 drivers are currently using cell phones or other electronic devices while driving.  It is further estimated that one in four car accidents are related to cell phone use while driving, leading to a large increase in the number of related injuries and fatalities. Cell phone use when driving requires the driver to focus on the cell phone and not on the road.  Conditions can easily change during the time the driver is not paying attention to the road.  Conversations on a cell phone when driving can also lead to inconsistent speed and following conditions and delayed breaking.  It is believed that drivers on a cell phone are as impaired as a drunk driver.

In Michigan, there is no prohibition on cell phone use except for novice drivers.  Texting, however, is illegal, but government estimates shown roughly 5% of cell phone related accidents occur due to texting.  Cell phone use while driving causes drivers to become distracted, which leads to an increased likelihood of traffic violations and accidents.  Proposals that would make talking on a cell phone while driving illegal, have made it to the Michigan legislature but have not passed.  Legislatures need to understand the ramifications of cell phone use while driving and enact laws in every state which ban the use of cell phones when driving, except in an emergency situation.

My family has suffered several consequences from distracted drivers. When I first started driving, the effects of using cell phones while driving was not as known as it is now.  At sixteen years old, I did not think much about talking on a cell phone while driving.  While my parents told me not to, as teenagers often do, I ignored their advice.  Little did I know that this action, albeit from another person, would forever change my life and that of my family’s life.  It was not too long after I first started driving, that my family received a phone call that my grandparents were involved in a car accident.  It took a few seconds for my life to move from relatively normal, to completely different.  We soon found out that my grandfather was killed as the result of a distracted driver.

The gentleman who hit my grandparent’s car, ran a red light and T-boned them due to distractions from a cell phone.  I often asked myself what was so important to that gentleman that he could not wait to check his cell phone.  I do not believe that anything on a cell phone is as important as someone’s life.  It is for this reason that I think twice before dialing my cell phone while I am driving, because that phone call to my parents or to work can wait.

Distracted driving from cell phones again impacted my family’s life a few months ago. My mother was running to the grocery store and was hit head on by a distracted driver who had crossed into oncoming traffic while driving up a hill.  It was reported that this individual was using his cell phone at the time.  Thankfully, my mother did survive the accident.  However, she did not escape serious injury.

The accident required abdominal surgery, as well as surgery to her wrist, hand, and fingers.  I watched my mother suffer in the hospital and there was nothing that anyone could do about it except attempt to control the pain.  When she came home from the hospital, my dad and I had to take care of her and help with activities of daily living.  It has been several months and she is just now getting back to being somewhat normal.  There are still a few long term consequences and it is unknown whether or not these will be lifelong.  She still has trouble with stiffness and pain in her hand, and she may never regain full functionality.  It is unfortunate that one preventable mistake can change someone’s life so significantly.

It is important to remember that the use of cell phones while driving can also lead to accidents involving pedestrians.  Over 1,500 pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms for cell-phone related accidents within the past year.  These accidents involve drivers distracted by cell phones, as well as pedestrians distracted by cell phones.  Drivers who are using a cell phone may forget to look for pedestrians when turning or not be as aware of bikers riding in a traffic lane.  By not using a cell phone while driving, individuals are less likely to be involved in an accident.

The dangers of cell phone use while driving are widely known, but often ignored.  Cell phone use while driving can drastically impact someone’s life and legal ramifications do not reverse the effects of an accident.  Whether you or someone you love is the victim of a cell phone related crash or causes a cell phone related crash, the effects are devastating.  It is my opinion that cell phone use should be illegal when driving.  There is nothing so important that cannot wait, as it is not worth anyone’s life.

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