As our society continues to get increasingly busy, it seems we are also getting more and more distracted.  We are all multi-tasking to try and complete everything we have to get done on a daily basis, and the rush of it all has become detrimental to our well being.

Unfortunately, this fact became a reality for my family on October 20, 2011, when my brother-in-law – Brian; 43 years old, and in the prime of his life - was struck in a crosswalk by an 18 year old driver.  He sustained a severe head injury and was unable to recover; sadly, he died on November 3.  The police report stated that the driver failed to yield the right of way, and was inattentive.  As you can imagine, our family was devastated, but out of every tragedy we must find a message and try to make a change for the better.  To honor Brian, our family has begun to raise awareness about driving while distracted, and hopefully we will save at least one life by sharing our story.

We found the following statistics staggering, and I think you will too.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2008:

  • 4,378 pedestrians, and 716 pedal cyclists were killed in traffic crashes
  • 69,000 pedestrians and 52,000 pedal cyclists were injured in traffic crashes
  • On average, a pedestrian is killed almost every 2 hours and injured every 8 minutes
  • 12 percent of all pedal cyclists killed were between 5 and 15 years old.

On the road, our distractions are increased by the demands of the job, efforts to be efficient, and the goal of getting home at a reasonable time.   However, one of the most dangerous distractions is the increased use of cell phones during our drive, whether for texting, emailing or talking - even with a blue tooth.  The New York Times recently did a series of articles on this issue and in one of them it states:

“With virtually every American owning a cell phone, distracted driving has become a threat on the nation’s roads. Studies say that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers. Yet Americans have largely ignored that research.  Device makers and auto companies acknowledge the risks, but they aggressively develop and market gadgets that cause distractions. Police in almost half of all states make no attempt to gather data on the problem. The federal government warns against talking on a cell phone while driving, but no state legislature has banned it.”

And companies are paying a big price; last year, International Paper reached a settlement to pay $5.2 million because of a 2006 accident in which an employee on a phone hit another driver, whose arm had to be amputated.  In addition, insurance companies are starting to consider whether companies have policies on cell phone use.

Are we really more efficient, better employees by multitasking while we are driving?  The research says no.

  • At a basic neurologic level, researchers at University of California, Los Angeles, used brain imaging to show that multitaskers were less effective learners.   According to that research, a person focused on a single task remembers what he has learned using the hippocampus, a part of the brain critical to storing and recalling information. But when that person multitasks — like trying to learn something new while driving — the brain relies more on the striatum, a part of the brain used more for learning motor skills. The researchers concluded, “Don’t multitask while you are trying to learn something new you hope to remember.”

As I mentioned, the driver that killed Brian was a teenager and I am sure many of you have teens driving.  So what about our teens?  In the United States, 1 in 4 crash fatalities involve someone 16 to 24 years old, nearly twice as high as other age groups. The Allstate Insurance website provides the following facts:

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among American teenagers, killing between 5,000 and 6,000 teenagers every year.
  • Teenage drivers account for 12.6 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes.
  • The fatal crash rates among 16 to 19-year-olds is four times that of older drivers.
  • Risk is the highest at age 16, when the fatal crash rate is 40 percent higher than for 18 year-olds, and 30 percent higher than for 19-year-olds.

The reasons given for these alarming statistics:

  • Cell Phones
    • 56 percent of teens said they make and answer phone calls while driving.
    • Talking on a cell phone can double the likelihood of an accident and can slow a young driver’s reaction time to that of a 70-year-old.
    • 13 percent of teens said they send and respond to text messages while driving.
  • Also listed among the reasons for teen accidents were speeding and peer pressure.

So what is my message?  My brother-In-law was killed by a distracted driver.  Our family never thought something like this could happen to us, but it did - and we want people to learn from this situation in an attempt to prevent this tragedy from occurring in others lives.  Here’s what you can do:

  • Pay attention to the road with a single-minded focus.
  • Pull over to make calls or return emails.
  • Delegate tasks to office personnel if you are traveling.
  • Share this story with the teen drivers in your life and educate them about the serious consequences of distracted driving.
  • Consider putting a rule in place to put teen cell phones in the car trunk or hatch when driving to avoid temptation but still allow for access if they did need emergency road-side assistance.  Alternatively, there are wonderful new technology solutions that can block cellular signals while the car is on or in gear that can be installed to remove the temptation altogether.

There is no sale, deal, engagement or business transaction or issue worth to the risk of injury or taking another person’s life or your own.

What change can you make in your life to become less distracted?  Please share any ideas you have, we would love to hear them.