As I glanced out of the passenger side window of my family’s minivan, I noticed that a sedan had begun to drift from the middle lane of the Long Island Expressway into the left lane where my mom was driving. A loud honk of the horn got the driver’s attention, and the sedan swerved back into the middle lane. I noticed the driver had only his right hand placed on the steering wheel. His left hand was holding a cell phone, and his head was turned away from the road. As our minivan sped past, the sedan began to drift again, this time into the right lane.
Stories like this have become commonplace on New York State roads over the last decade. The prolific rise of the smartphone has allowed our society to become more connected than ever before. However, the phenomenon has also created a society that is easily distracted, and the risks posed to drivers are incredibly serious. Cell phone use lends itself to multitasking, and many drivers believe that they can use their phone while successfully operating a motor vehicle. However, according to the National Safety Council, both driving and using a cell phone require a significant amount of thought, and when the brain attempts to tackle both tasks at once, it can perform neither one effectively. It is impossible for a driver to look at their phone and the road at the same time. In fact, it takes a driver roughly five seconds to read a text on his or her phone. Traveling at 55 miles per hour, that’s enough time for a car to drive the length of a football field, or 120 yards. Five seconds may not seem like much, but this period of time where a driver is blind to the road could spell disaster. Distracted driving often leads to drifting, swerving, delayed breaking times and motorists completely missing traffic signals.
While my mom was able to avoid a crash with the sedan, other drivers across the state and across the nation have not been so lucky. Distracted driving is a leading cause of car accidents today. The National Safety Council states that texting and driving leads to 1.6 million crashes annually. In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 391,000 people were injured in distracted driving accidents. In the same year, 3,477 fatalities occurred because of these accidents. New York State recognizes texting and driving as a serious issue, and there are laws in place to deter motorists from driving while distracted. If someone is driving distracted, they can be fined up to $200 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense within 18 months, and $450 for a third offense within 18 months. In April 2017, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new initiative to combat texting and driving in New York State. The governor’s plan, titled Operation Hang Up, called for an increase in patrol areas and police checkpoints targeting distracted drivers.
Distracted driving is also a major issue among teenagers. According to the Center for Disease Control, people aged 16-19 have a higher risk of accident than any other age group, and automobile accidents are actually the leading cause of death among US teens.
Driving becomes even more treacherous for teens when they use their cell phones. Between text messages, emails, Snapchat notifications etc., there is always something on a teenager’s cell phone that can draw his or her attention away from the road. As a newly licensed, inexperienced driver myself, I am aware of the fact that I am more likely to have an accident to begin with. To keep my attention on the road, I turn my phone completely off when I drive, and I advocate for the same with my friends. I recall one night when I was riding with a friend who reached for his phone to answer a text. The car began to swerve, and I quickly grabbed my friend’s phone and yelled at him to pay attention to the road. I then shut his phone completely off. At first he was slightly annoyed, but he eventually thanked me for keeping us safe.
Distracted driving accidents can cause tragedy and heartbreak, but the sad truth is that these collisions are completely preventable. Motorists must exercise sound judgment while driving and remain attentive to the road in order to keep themselves and others safe.