November 7, 2005
A true story:
"It was a Thursday
night last October, about 10:30 p.m. Amanda and a friend had been
at a high school football game... On their way back, Amanda came
up on something unexpected in the road. ... It was a roll of carpet
about 20 feet long, right in the middle of the highway. ... Amanda
jerked the SUV from the right lane into the left lane, then back
again. The SUV fishtailed, rolled twice, and landed right side up
in the grassy median. [Amanda]: I just remember looking at my car,
and it was just completely gone. Like when you turned around, it
looked like there was nothing there. There was no windows. And the
windshield was caved in a lot. So like you could touch it, and it
was just real close to your face. ... And I just remember like hyperventilating,
and I couldn't catch my breath. And I was in shock, and I started
In this case, the young
driver was alert enough to see what was in the road. She swerved.
Her car was gone, but she survived. The accident could have been
"* Motor vehicle crashes
are the leading cause of death for 15 to 20 year olds in the United
* In 2001, 5,341 teens were killed in passenger vehicles involved
in motor vehicle crashes. Two thirds of those killed were not buckled
* In 2001, 3,608 drivers 15 to 20 years old were killed in motor
vehicle crashes, and an additional 337,000 were injured."
"Two thirds of those
killed were not buckled up." As for Amanda...
"Just two days before
the accident, Amanda started wearing her seatbelt. She never had
before, but a driver safety presentation at school changed her mind.
[Amanda]: If they wouldn't have came and talked to us, I don't think
I would have had my seatbelt on. And it makes me think of, like,
what could have happened. Like I could have went through the windshield
or I could be dead, basically."
Sometimes there are external
factors that make driving more dangerous (such a roll of carpet
in the road). Sometimes, the factors that bring added risk and danger
are right inside the car.
"Everyone is at risk
from their own potential distractions while driving, as well as
from other distracted drivers sharing the road. NHTSA estimates
that 25% of all crashes involve some form of driver distraction.
A NHTSA survey found that the most common distractions are talking
with passengers, changing radio stations or looking for CDs or tapes,
eating or drinking, talking on a cell phone, and dealing with kids
in the back seat."
All drivers have "their
own potential distractions while driving.
" While a driver may
be able to handle limited distraction and drive safely in an unrealistically
ideal situation, rarely are driving conditions perfect. Even if
there were some sort of guarantee that driving could exist in a
bubble (with no other cars, no animals, no potholes, no bad weather,
and no other possible external distractions or safety concerns):
reaching for a CD, grabbing a drink, or getting the cell phone can
take the eyes (and mind) of the driver off the road just long enough
for an unintentional swerve that could take the car off the road.
In our imaginary driving world, this would mean "just"
the driver, car, and potential passengers could be hurt.
In the real world...
"A car driven by a
teenager ran into a crowd of people leaving a high school playoff
football game Friday night in Naperville, police said. Six people
were struck by the 1992 Ford Escort ... Two girls and a boy between
the ages of 11 and 15, and also an adult, were taken to Edward Hospital
for treatment ... The eastbound car jumped the curb, drove over
a parkway and onto the sidewalk around 9:40 p.m. as hundreds people
were leaving the playoff game ... There was no indication that alcohol
or drugs were a factor ..."
Drivers often think that
they can both drive and handle distractions. At times this may be
true. At times it may not. Driving is not what is difficult.
Reacting is what is difficult. Reacting to the rolls of carpet that
don't get out of the way. Reacting to the other distracted drivers
that swerve into the wrong lane. Reacting to the animals that run
out into the road. Reacting to the ball that just rolled into the
street, and anticipating that a child may come chasing out after
and inattentive driving tendencies yourself will put you in a stronger
position to deal with other people's bad driving. ... Assume the
worst. Assume that drivers will run through red lights or stop signs
and be prepared to react. While driving, imagine that other drivers
(especially truck drivers) don't see you when you are making your
way into their path. Also, keep an eye on pedestrians and pets along
There is reacting, and
then there is anticipating.
Beyond just: Paying attention and reacting when something happens...
There is: Paying attention and making adjustments before something
happens... In case something happens...
"Watch out for the
other guy. Part of staying in control is being aware of the drivers
around you and what they may suddenly do so you're less likely to
be caught off guard. For example, if a car speeds past you on the
highway but there's not much space between the car and a slow-moving
truck in the same lane, it's a pretty sure bet the driver will try
to pull into your lane directly in front of you. Anticipating what
another driver may do prepares you to react."
Sometimes, driving involves,
"Anticipating what another driver may do." Sometimes,
it involves anticipating more than just what is happening with other
"Jorge is one of 74
pedestrians killed on San Jose streets since 2001. From 2001 to
2004, 45 percent of road deaths in San Jose were pedestrians --
markedly higher than the national average of 34 percent in urban
While drivers need to pay
attention, they are not the only ones.
Another true story:
"Drivers stopped on
the 45 mph expressway see him [Jorge] at the corner wearing a black
baseball cap -- sideways as teens do -- black Nikes and pants and
a dark T-shirt. The light is red for traffic on Capitol, but just
as Jorge begins to cross, it flips green. Two lanes of drivers don't
budge as Jorge runs across. The right lane is empty. In those moments,
a 19-year-old Gavilan College student driving her '92 Honda Civic
is slowing for the red light -- it turns green. She continues, but
suddenly before the crosswalk, she slams on her brakes. The right
side of her
windshield explodes, a black form punching a large hole in the glass.
The screech freezes nearby drivers. Acrid smoke from her tires billows
up from skid marks that finally stop -- 77 feet from impact. Her
car scoops up the boy, and his flying body comes to a twisted rest
on a nearby island -- shoeless and hatless. One Nike lies in the
street, the other across the far crosswalk. The driver sits in her
car, stunned. Then hysterical."
The pedestrian, in this
case, is only one of the victims.
"While millions have
been spent locally to lower speeds and improve safety, careless
pedestrians are as much to blame as speeding, distracted drivers.
Questions of the Week:
Even if you don't drive at all, what do you need to know about distracted
driving to help yourself and your friends stay safe? When you are
not driving (either as a passenger or a pedestrian), what can you
do help create a safer environment on the roads? If you are a driver,
what will help you to remember to drive more safely? What is involved
with driving more safely? If you were to create a "Road Safety"
course for your peers (both drivers and non-drivers), what would
you include? Statistics? Actual accident reports? Guest speakers
who have been in accidents? A combination of of one or more of these
elements, and others not mentioned here? What would you leave out?
How (and why) would the elements chosen for your program reach your
peers? How would you present it?
***Attention teens (and
pre-teens): Talk to your teachers. If you create a program that
they think could be used by other teachers and students around the
country, send it to me. Approved programs will be posted on-line
and linked to from our site.***
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum