What Will You See? The Dangers of Texting and Driving

The Razor’s Edge, by Madeleine Richey

I just acquired my driver’s permit not too long ago, and I was also, very recently, involved in a minor car accident, (though I wasn’t driving). These, along with a few other things I’ll tell you about later, prompted me to choose texting and driving as this month’s topic.

Everyone wants to drive, right? At least in the general sense we all do, maybe not EVERY last person, but the majority of us teenagers want our driver’s license. And who can blame us? A driver’s license is freedom! It’s the ability to drive ourselves somewhere, on our own time, without having to wait for a parent or other licensed driver to do it for us, and, for some of us, the ability to go places without parents knowing where. So, naturally, getting a driver’s permit is a big deal—it means we’re one step closer to being a fully licensed driver, with all the privileges on the road as an independent adult. Unfortunately, I have also noticed that with this freedom to drive unsupervised with a full license also comes the freedom to make choices about talking and texting while driving.

That’s just a bad idea. There’s no way around it. Doing anything that is a potential distraction while driving is one of the worst ideas you could possibly think up. If you watch enough TV like I am ashamed to admit I do, you’ve probably seen the commercials with the people who were involved in car accidents while texting, or those who sent a text to a loved one and lost them, holding signs with the words they texted. They always leave you with a horrible pit in your stomach. And why shouldn’t they? Someone suffered horrible consequences for doing something you do every day, maybe even lost their life because of this action, so why shouldn’t this bother us? The question is, does it bother us enough to make us stop?

Driving home from campus with my mother, we were in a small fender bender. We live only five minutes from the college campus, so I guess that myth about most accidents taking place close to home is true. And halfway home, my mother had to stomp on the brakes to avoid hitting a motorcyclist who suddenly swerved into our lane out of nowhere, beeping his horn irritably to make us aware of his presence. BAM! The car behind slammed into us, just as it was speeding up to merge onto the highway; the driver wasn’t watching for us, and instead was looking for a gap in the traffic that would give her a place to merge, and didn’t see the car come to a sudden halt.

I was leaning back against the seat, and the sudden force (which, I might add, was incredible for such a low speed impact) sent my face hurtling toward the dashboard. Luckily, my seatbelt locked in time, knocking the wind out of me and throwing me back against the seat. I felt a shooting pain through my neck and left shoulder when I hit the seat at the wrong angle (that’s called whiplash, and yes, it does hurt). My mother was leaning forward over the wheel, and her seatbelt locked perfectly, so she was unharmed. Pulling over to exchange information we got a good look at the back of the car. The rear fender was bent out of shape, dented horribly in the middle and starting to peel off where it attached to the sides of the car. The trunk was also dented, and had popped up, unable to close correctly thanks to the deformed rear fender.

The car has since been repaired, and my neck and shoulder only hurt for a couple days; mercifully, that was the extent of our troubles due to the accident. The lesson I took away from the experience carries much more weight, though; always drive carefully. These vehicles are huge, and they carry an extreme amount of force. They can kill you.

So when I got my driver’s permit, my mother and I made a game out of watching the people we were driving past to see who was paying attention. A staggering 1/3 of them were using phones to talk or text. And they were invariably all the bad drivers.

A friend of mine, who I love very much, was in a car accident years ago, before we met. They were injured in the crash. I have, since meeting them, had to deal with some the emotional fallout from those injuries that, even years later, still remains. It’s a sense of not being good enough; of not being whole; not being as good as everyone else. My friend, I might also add, has one of the most amazing personalities and a stellar sense of humor, something I don’t think would have developed as keenly without having to overcome the obstacles the injuries posed. But time and time again, when the past comes up, I realize the extent of the damage. It’s as if my friend is saying “There’s something wrong with me; do you love me anyway?” That’s heartbreaking to hear, and even worse is when I said “I do”, and they don’t believe a word I say.

For my part, I am thankful they are alive. Imagining life without a friend is not a fun experience, and one I’ve had to deal with in many a nightmare because of this accident that I wasn’t even around to witness.

The fear of losing a friend or family member to a car accident has admittedly become one of my worst nightmares, and I mean that in the literal sense; it is an active fear that preys on my mind when I am sleeping, and is oft to wake me in the middle of the night.

So when a friend who also just got their permit once texted me to say that he was practicing driving, I panicked. When realizing my fear, he amended the statement to tell me that he was not driving in that moment, but was practicing in between running errands. Perhaps I over reacted, but I still think I was right to insist on his not texting and driving. I refuse to be the one to send him the text message he is reading when he dies in a car crash.

If you text a friend and they say they are driving, don’t text. Wait. It might save their life.

According to statistics on http://www.distraction.gov, 11% of all drivers under the age of 20 that were involved in fatal car crashes were distracted. And 40% of teens reported being in a car where the driver used a hand-held device in a way that endangered passengers and other drivers on the road. Drivers using hand-held devices are 4 times more likely to be in a car crash. The risk of a car crash while texting is 23 times worse than that of driving without being distracted.

The most striking fact is that “Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent – at 55 mph – of driving the length of an entire football field, blind.”

Unless you want to lose your life, or that of a friend, don’t text and drive. If you do, you take a risk that that message will be the last thing you see. What will you see before you die?

Madeleine, 16, says: I want to help people and I want to tell stories, especially the stories of people who don’t have a voice of their own. Some of them have faces we recognize–the faces of family and friends, maybe even the face we see when we look in the mirror. I want to share with you the information I have about all these things, so that maybe you can recognize them and walk away from danger or help out a friend who doesn’t see it or saw it too late.”

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