Editorials

A moment of distraction can mean death on the highway. Here’s how you can save lives

Powerful message about texting while driving

Did you know that when you send or receive a text you take your eyes off the road for 5 seconds? At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field, blindfolded.
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Did you know that when you send or receive a text you take your eyes off the road for 5 seconds? At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field, blindfolded.

A few seconds. That’s all it took. In the time required to read these words, a 5-year-old girl’s life was cut short.

She died when her family’s car was violently rear-ended by a pickup truck on Highway 99 near Yuba City. The California Highway Patrol says the pickup’s 24-year-old driver was texting on his phone and failed to notice a slowdown in traffic. The force of the impact ejected the young Wheatland girl from the car and left her fellow passengers with major injuries.

We may never know the contents of the text message that started this devastating chain of events. What we do know is that a little girl is gone and others are seriously injured because someone decided to text while driving.

Honestly, though, how many of us have not allowed ourselves to become distracted behind the wheel of an automobile? Our smartphones are designed for distraction – with GPS navigation systems, music, social media and texting all located on one screen. Sixty-nine percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 admitted to using their cell phones while driving, according to a 2011 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The problem has only gotten worse. Navigation apps like Waze encourage distracted driving by rewarding you with points if you report things like potholes and speed traps. The only way to play is to fiddle with your phone while simultaneously speeding down the highway. And who can resist the dopamine-inducing excitement of checking a new text message after the notification pops up? In a society where we’re all crunched for time, who hasn’t taken the shortcut of checking a work message behind the wheel?

It’s tempting, and it’s deadly. Distracted driving resulted in the deaths of 3,166 people in 2017, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Nine people are killed every day and 1,000 are injured every day in distracted driving accidents.

“Texting is the most alarming distraction,” NHTSA warns. “Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.”

NHTSA encourages drivers to take a pledge as part of its “U Drive. U Text. U Pay” campaign against texting while driving:

Protect lives by never texting or talking on the phone while driving

Be a good passenger and speak out if the driver in my car is distracted

Encourage your friends and family to drive phone-free

“So many people’s lives are lost because of distracted drivers and it needs to stop,” said Kaci Griess, whose father, CHP Officer Kirk Griess, was killed by a texting driver on Interstate 80 last August.

“I don’t want anybody to ever have to go through the loss my family is going through, because it’s almost a year next month,” said Griess, who now works to educate teens about the dangers of driving, in an interview with ABC 10. “You need to pull over. It’s not worth it.”

Few text messages say anything of real importance. Yet taking our eyes off the road for a few seconds is all it takes to end someone’s life. This week, a 24-year-old man found out the hard way on Highway 99 when his actions killed a 5-year-old.

Would you want to get a text telling you someone you know has been killed by a distracted driver? Help save a life: Leave the phone alone when driving.

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