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Columns

The Modern Domestic Woman: Distracted Driving Awareness Month provides a firsthand lesson

Columnist's vehicle struck by distracted driver

Smack dab in the middle of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, I was hit by a distracted driver. The details are simple: me and my daughters waited at a stop light to make a left-hand turn when out of the blue we were rear-ended by another vehicle. No squealing of tires interrupted our conversation about the ice cream sundaes we were going to make when we got home. The plan was swiftly shot down the moment metal crushed metal.

Thankfully, my daughters walked away from the accident with no physical injuries, just scared and shaken. I, on the other hand, sustained a cut to my head and a severe concussion. “Take it easy,” the ER doctor said. “Rest, stare out into space, and rest.”

I laughed at the recommendation. “Can somebody tell my kids that mom needs to rest?I thought.

A few days later, I visited my primary doctor, who ordered me to abstain from screens for two weeks, and as the thought of a purposeful social detox excited me, I felt overwhelmed when I considered my job; 99.99 percent of what I do involves a screen or device of some kind. As anxiety washed over me and my head throbbed through the vise-like grip on my brain grew tighter a quiet voice whispered in my heart.

“But you’re alive.”

Reflecting on all the people I knew who’ve been affected by a distracted driver collision, several of them lost their lives or the lives of a loved one. A particular friend, Laura Carney, lost her father when a distracted driver ran a red light while talking on her cellphone.

Now an advocate for awareness with the National Safety Council, Carney educated me on just how distracting it is to use a mobile device while driving a vehicle.

“What I often get asked when it comes to distracted driving is 'how is this a new problem?' People like to talk about turning on the radio or talking to other passengers, they like to point out the fact that distractions like these have always existed in cars,” Carney said. “Places like the National Safety Council have compiled scientific studies that illustrate how much certain distractions tax the brain. So let's say a phone conversation is a level 4 distraction, and reaching for something that has moved on the floor in your vehicle is a level 9.

"The problem there is that 10 percent of the driving population is on their phone at any given time. Reaching for something is a much less prevalent action. So it's a combination of factors that makes phone use so dangerous – it's how distracting it is cognitively but also how prevalent the behavior is. David Teater explains this really well in a video on nsc.org about Distracted Driving Awareness Month.”

Teater also states if you use a phone while driving, it increases your likelihood of crashing by four times.

It took 10 years for Carney to make the connection that the phone the other driver was using could have caused the accident.

“I still used my phone while driving for 10 years,” Carney said. “Even after I became a distracted-driving awareness advocate, my husband and I still had conversations hands-free while driving. That's a very common misconception – that hands-free is safer. It's not.”

The National Safety Council has conducted studies explaining what happens to a driver’s vision, during both handheld and hands-free phone usage. While we think we’re “multitasking,” cognitively we’re really missing a lot of what is happening around us.

“What you see through the windshield shrinks four times,” Carney said. “The worst part of this, other than potentially killing someone or ourselves, is that there's a blackout effect that happens when we're attending to a phone conversation more than we are the road – because we can still see the road a little bit, we don't realize we're missing anything. So we get somewhere and think we're capable of multitasking because everything went just fine. The truth is, it didn't. Your brain wants you to think it did.”

Yet we all do it, right? That sense of urgency to text a friend or look down at your work email or see who has liked your latest Facebook post, it’s just a quick peek, for goodness sake, right?

“I think nobody ever wants to be tsk-tsked at and told what to do,” Carney said. “Especially since we all associate our phones with downtime, me time, time to relax a little bit. I don't want to take that away from anyone. I just want people to view their cars as something other than a phone booth. You are busy operating machinery at the moment, whoever is calling you can call you back when you're not.”

In November 2016, Carney found a list her father wrote when he was 29. The title of that list was “Things I Would Like to Do in My Lifetime!” The first entry on the list – to live a long, healthy life at least to the year 2020.

As Carney and her brother read through the list, they decided to honor their father by finishing the things he wanted to accomplish in his life. She’s created an online space to document this journey called My Father’s List.

“Doing these things is my way of moving on, and I think documenting it gives people a better concept of what's truly lost when someone dies in a crash caused by an impaired driver,” Carney said about her goal to finish her father’s list. “My hope is that it makes them want one less daughter to have to process all of this.”

To learn more about the National Safety Council and National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, visit nsc.org/road-safety/get-involved/distracted-driving-awareness-month.

Smitten with domestic life but not to the point of unhealthy obsession, “The Modern Domestic Woman” author and St. Charles resident, Elizabeth Rago, is a freelance writer. You can visit her blog at thecircularhome.com or connect with Rago on Facebook at facebook.com/TheModernDomesticWoman. Feedback can be sent to editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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