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Distracted driving ... die or live to regret it

Studies show that texting while driving kills 11 teenagers in the U.S. every day.
Studies show that texting while driving kills 11 teenagers in the U.S. every day.
Photo: Jason Weaver via Flickr

One summer morning, July 2013, a young mother is walking her baby girl in a stroller down a New Jersey street. At the same time, a bus driver, driving his usual route, is talking on his cell phone. Distracted by the conversation, he loses control of his bus, which careens into a lamp post, causing the light to fall down onto the stroller and crush the baby to death. Bystanders say the mother's screams could be heard 21 stories above the accident.

Could you have been this driver? Do you take your eyes off the road to text, talk on the phone or with passengers, eat, attend to your child, etc.? Did you know that taking your eyes off the road for just 4 seconds, the time it takes to answer your phone or change a radio station, means you've driven the length of a football field with your eyes off your driving? How much damage can you do with your car in the length of a football field?

According to the website of Pittsburgh's most recognizable injury lawyers, Edgar Snyder & Associates, a driver becomes 23 times more likely to have an accident if texting while driving. In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that texting while driving kills 11 teens every day in the United States. And, if you're thinking that being young means your reflexes will stop you from having an accident, statistics show that simply talking on a cell phone while driving can slow a teenager's reaction time down to that of a 70-year-old!

Pennsylvania's ban on texting while driving, which went into effect March of 2012, carries with it a fine of $50 that, with fees, mounts up to roughly $135. Seems like small potatoes ... and it is. The fees mean nothing compared to the catastrophic effects distracted driving can have on lives, the lives that are lost and the lives that are left to pick up the pieces. According to PennDOT, more than 300 people statewide died in 2012 because of distracted drivers, nearly 1 every day.

So what can Pennsylvania drivers do to make roads safer for all? PennDOT recommends the following safety tips:

• Store your cell phone while driving, and make calls only after pulling off the road.
• If you're traveling alone, set your GPS, radio, etc., before you drive.
• If you must travel with pets, make sure they are properly restrained.
• Never attend to your child while you are driving.
• Wait until you reach your destination to pick up an object you dropped.

In the provocative 2004 film, The Machinist, lead character Trevor Reznik has not slept for a year, resulting in serious health problems and hallucinations. The reason for his insomnia (spoiler) is finally revealed: One year prior, after momentarily taking his eyes off the road, Reznik hit and killed a young boy, and he has been denying to himself this tragedy ever since, causing his life to spiral out of control. How long did Trevor Reznik take his eyes off the road? Just long enough to pull out his cigarette lighter, which takes even less time than texting or answering a cell phone. It is not possible to know how long the character would ultimately spend in prison for killing this boy, but one thing's for sure: He will never forget that moment when lighting his cigarette became more important than a boy's life.

So, what will be your 'cigarette lighter'? A text about what you're doing Friday night? A cell phone call that could have waited a couple minutes until you could safely pull over to return it? A quick refreshment of your lipstick? Truly, as cautionary tales go, the story of Trevor Reznik is one that smacks you in the face. Of course, better to be smacked in the face by a movie ... than a windshield.

April 2014 will be National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Let's take this time to work together and make our roads safer than ever.