Texting Tragedies - Be On Guard
One out of Three Drivers is Not Watching the Road
Be Prepared for the Unexpected
It was Valentine's Day, for many, the day to celebrate love. I had enjoyed some wonderful time with friends, I was traveling home on my normal route when I suddenly noticed traffic was backing up in front of me. I saw the emergency vehicles and as is my normal response, I started praying for the people involved in the situation.
As Community Chaplain here in Denver. I have been called to some difficult scenes, but this was among the worst I have seen in a long time. A van was upside down on the side of the road, compressed as if a crusher had come down on it for disposal. Near the van, I saw something that sent chills down my spine: clothing, some soda cans and other debris.
I pulled behind the police car, approaching as so not to distract the work being done. I showed my identification badge, and one of the local officers I know was present. I asked if I could help comfort any of the victims. Usually there are one or two who don't require transport to a hospital but are in shock from the trauma. I just stay with them while the officers sort out the scene, and their loved ones or a friend arrives to take them home.
I could not, Steve informed it was too late, a mother and two teen-age children were gone. Instantly. The cause? Officers were gathering up evidence, which included two cell-phones, the mother's and apparently her son's. Both had messages within seconds of the crash, it looked like the mom had begun a return text...."hey, I will be home.....and there it ended.
Witnesses detailed an unexplainable meandering over the center line and a sudden swerve prior to the accident. The van rolled 4 times, landing sideways against the bridge embankment and teetering before rolling upside down. They were still in the vehicle, being extracted slowly from all the mangled steel.
I saw the bodies, 2 inside, 1 half outside. I was momentarily breathless. Seatbelt, I asked? Maybe, maybe not. There had been no movement, no screaming, no gasping for breath. When the jaws of life were done, it had become evident there were no signs of life.
I asked if they needed a notification, they said not yet, they hadn't identified the third passenger, a young girl. It would have to wait for now. There were no witnesses wanting to talk now about their feelings, I imagined they would need someone later. I left the scene and headed home to wait for the call.
My mind went to the cell phones. Could this have been avoided? I didn't judge them, I just thought of their families, friends, schoolmates. This is tough stuff. I had to think about them, but then I had to think about my own bad cell phone behavior.
You've done it. I have done it. Snuck a peek at an incoming text, then realized at the last minute you were going to drive off the road, or worse, into some unsuspecting oncoming car. This latest accident caused me some serious adjustments. If I have to do it, I am pulling off the road if I absolutely must touch my phone. Period. This is serious business, for all of us.
Most states have already passed texting-while-driving restrictive laws. Then why do driving texters seem to be multiplying exponentially?. As technology worldwideadvances at record speed, so do drivers who are preoccupied with them even at the wheel and at excessive speeds.
While I acknowledge the necessary advancement of communication, I really don't see the advantages to adding new methods that increase inattentive driving. One of the most dangerous after effects of high-technology is the hazard it presents to us personally while on the road. Here are some of the notable hazards.
1) Drivers who talk on the phone either get lost in the conversation and lose all sense of time by meandering aimlessly down the highway. You've seen texters in your rear view mirror and wondered if they would look up in time to not hit you, haven't you?
2) Drivers are oblivious to the line of cars piling up behind them as they travel at 35 miles an hour in a 55 zone. Perhaps they justify that as a safe driving speed while they are talking or texting, but often I have been behind one of these bottlenecks. It seems as though time is standing still as they are absorbed in the conversation; Other drives become aggravated and road rage escalates.
3) The difficulty caused by paying minimal attention to what is going on outside of their phone call as they slam on their brakes suddenly and make a turn without warning. Road safety has become secondary to the phone connection.
4) Swerving from lane to lane, and sometimes over the double yellow line into oncoming traffic trying to get that last letter into a "vital" text message. Really? LOL? What was I thinking? For this category, it's just a matter of time until something destructive happens.
I have often contemplated the destructive outcome of this practice when I regularly encounter a number of them swerving back and forth on the way to town. In my personal life, I refuse to ride with those who feel the need to participate in this death-defying sport.
Things to consider:
1) What is so important that it can't wait until you pull over, and by the way, would you please?
2) Did you know that you scare me when you are behind me and you are looking down rather than forward?
3) How will you stop if you can't even see my taillights?
4) What are the actuall accident statistics or fatalities?
5) Why are there often no officers observing and/or ticketing us?
All of these questions are somewhat simplistic, but in actuality, they avoid the real issue. We have to take responsibility. Very few people think accidents will happen with them at the wheel. They are too busy keeping up with every detail of their friends and families life to notice.
Americans seem to have forgotten that cars are primarily for enabling us to get from one destination to the next, quickly and safely. Today it is unusual to see a person driving with their eyes completely focused on the road or the vehicles approaching them. Pedestrians, ambulances, police cars or buses full of children sadly seem to be the casualties.
Walking through the parking lot at the gym recently I, too, could have been a statistic. Although I was in a marked crosswalk, I was completely ignored by a texting driver. Once, I threw up my hand in desperation after trying to determine how quickly to move or in which direction. The driver revved his engine to swerve around me recklessly. I guess he showed me who was boss!
Text-walkers present an added dangerous obstacle as they meander aimlessy, never stopping to notice anything at all, save their screen. Apparently it's our responsibility to watch them, even when they stop suddenly in the middle of the street to read or text back . Most don't even bother to use a crosswalk. The law calls that jay-walking, but I call that life-threatening behavior; if they get hurt you will be the one who is sued and lose everything.
So the next time you feel that urge, whether walking or driving, consider that the decision you make just might cause you or someone else their life!