We were driving through western New Jersey at the start of our spring-break when we ran into one of those mysterious traffic back-ups in the middle of nowhere.
We inched along for miles, stopping and starting, until suddenly, on a hill, the car in front of us started to roll backwards. Maybe the car was in neutral. Maybe it was a stick shift and the driver had the clutch in.
The car rolled closer to us. The man behind the wheel had his head down. And then, just as I was about to blast him with my horn, he looked up and braked.
I switched lanes, and as we pulled up next to him, his head was down again. His thumbs were flying over a smartphone keyboard.
As encounters with texting drivers go, we were lucky. But I’ve been thinking about this moment in light of the
In 2009, more than 5,500 people were killed and almost 500,000 were injured because drivers were distracted for one reason or another. About 20 percent of the fatalities involved a cell phone.
Distracted driving is the new drunk driving.
And of all the forms of distracted driving, texting is right up there with applying makeup as the most indefensible activity to undertake while behind the wheel.
What to do about it?
Since texting is so prevalent among young drivers, I’ve been thinking about something that made a lasting impression on me as a teenager.
In my drivers-ed class—back in the days before mandatory seat-belt laws—we had to watch a film produced by the Pennsylvania Highway Patrol that showed in grisly detail the consequences of not wearing seat belts in a high-speed crash. The bloody, mangled and contorted bodies were a form of shock therapy.
After that, buckling up became second nature to me.
What if there were something similar about the dangers of texting while driving?
Two years ago, the police department of Gwent, Wales produced a four-minute public service video that plays like a mini horror movie.
Three girls are driving down a busy highway, laughing and enjoying themselves. The driver, who is texting somebody, doesn’t notice that she’s drifting over the dividing line into oncoming traffic.
She looks up too late. In the head-on collision that follows, we see the girls’ heads hit the windshield and windows, hear the sickening snap of breaking bones and watch as the car spins around on the highway, only to be hit again by another car.
The rest of the video, which has no narration, shows police and emergency medical workers trying to get to the blood-soaked girls trapped inside the car. The passenger in the front seat is clearly dead. The girl in the back seat is unconscious. The driver cries uncontrollably.
In one of the other cars, a little girl tells the police that she wants her mommy to wake up.
You can read that texting drivers are 23 times more likely to have an accident than attentive drivers, and you can think to yourself, “Yes, makes sense. Texting and driving. Not a good combination.”
But the Welsh video turns statistics into flesh-and-blood reality, the kind that can change behavior.
“The messages contained in the film are as relevant to the people of Tennessee as they are to the residents [of Wales],” the head of Gwent’s police department said when the video was released. “Texting and driving can have tragic consequences, and the more this film is viewed, the better.”
The video is available on YouTube here. Parents should watch it first before showing it to their children. For drivers in Westchester and the Hudson Valley as well as in Wales and Tennessee, it's a powerful indictment of a deadly, and entirely avoidable, distraction.