April is national Distracted Driving Awareness Month

Posted on April 23rd, 2019
By Philip Haldaman, Char-Em ISD Transportation Supervisor
 
Two days before Thanksgiving in 2008 in Fort Collins, Colo., 9-year-old Erica couldn’t wait to pedal home from school on her bicycle to begin the holiday. Sadly, instead of celebrating, she was hit by a woman who was texting while driving. Erica suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result and she died on Thanksgiving Day.
 
Erica’s mother, Shelley Forney, has since made it her mission to educate motorists about the dangers of cell phone use while driving, founding a group called “Focus-Driven.” Her efforts attracted the attention of former Colorado Representative Betsy Markey, who helped draft federal recognition for her cause. On March 23, 2010, the month of April officially became known as National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
 
Nationally, traffic crashes remain the leading cause of death for people aged 1-35; roughly 3,500 deaths annually. Nearly 400,000 people are seriously injured annually in crashes attributable to cell-phone use. One in every four crashes is caused by a driver distracted by their cell phone, while drivers are six times more likely to cause that crash while texting than if they were driving drunk.
 

Phil Haldaman, Char-Em ISD Transportation Supervisor

Dr. Guy Winch, of ‘Psychology Today,’ suggests we get ourselves into trouble when we do too many tasks at once that tax our cognitive abilities, behaviors which can actually harm the brain. His findings revealed that people (especially teens) who were frequent media multitaskers experienced reductions in their brains’ gray matter. Their critical cognitive control functions were compromised, resulting in reduced cognitive and other brain function.

 
Ultimately, when we’re concentrating on our electronic or other media that moves our mind off of the moment, we can become cognitively detached from whatever we’re engaged in. If it’s driving, the results could be deadly.
 
Last year, one of our school bus drivers was northbound on US-31 south of Charlevoix, waiting for traffic to clear that morning so she could turn left to pick up a student. Suddenly, she noticed the yellow cab of the fast-moving semi-tractor behind her – pulling a 12,000 gallon gasoline tanker – starting to jack-knife. She had seen the truck driver in her rear view mirror earlier, talking on his cell phone. Was he cognitively distracted by his cell phone use to the point where he didn’t make a decision to slow down until it was almost too late? We’ll never know. Thankfully, our alert driver realized what was happening. Instead of waiting to turn, she quickly hit the gas to steer the bus to the safety of the shoulder, narrowly missing what could have been a catastrophic crash.
 
Unless we start treating ‘distracted driving’ the same we do ‘drunk driving,’ innocent people will continue to grieve the loss of a loved one through the avoidable tragedy of a distracted driving crash.
 
Phil Haldaman is the Transportation Supervisor for Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District.
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