This summer, I put in over 24 hours of windshield time driving to our annual vacation destination from Tennessee through Georgia, South and North Carolina. (We go to an island where the only motor vehicles are golf carts. And after you read this you will know why). After our vacation trip, we made the drive from the Nashville area to “beautiful” Waco, TX and back. Another 24 hours of windshield time! I haven’t made that particular drive in a number of years and much to my dismay, I-40 between Memphis and Little Rock, Arkansas is worse than I remember and possibly the worst stretch of Interstate in the U.S. It’s under construction, drives like it’s been carpet-bombed and rutted by a constant flow of tractor-trailer convoys! I’ve driven on much better highways in the Middle East! But I digress…
On this recent driving adventure we saw many people on their mobile phones talking, texting, web surfing, Tweeting, Facebooking, etc. Accompanied by swerving, and even running off the road, literally. We actually saw a person talking on two cell phones at the same time while steering with his elbows! While my wife is awake in the passenger seat, she is my extra set of eyes and lookout to see what these swerving deviants are actually doing. With all the mobile apps and devices available today, it’s not hard to understand why distracted driving is such a huge problem.
Iowa and a number of other states have taken to their highway message boards to raise awareness of various problems such as drunken driving, texting and driving, not wearing seat belts, speeding, annual tally of traffic deaths, etc. Some of the more popular message board examples include:
“TAILGATING IS FOR FOOTBALL, NOT THE HIGHWAY”
“DRIVE ON RIGHT. PASS ON LEFT”
“NOT BUCKLED? SERIOUSLY??”
“NOT BUCKLED? YOU’RE KILLING ME SMALLS!”
“PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN AND DRIVE!”
“HONK IF YOU LOVE JESUS, TEXT IF YOU WANT TO MEET HIM”
“DOES YOUR BLINKER NOT WORK, OR WHAT?”
“MAY THE 4th BE WITH YOU, TEXT I WILL NOT”
And my personal favorite and the one that has gotten the most feedback is, “GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR APPS, DRIVE SAFELY”. This particular message actually originated in Iowa and spread across the country according to Willy Sorenson, a professional traffic and safety engineer with the Iowa DOT. They post new messages each Monday and don’t repeat them although they’ve had a few requests for repeats. Willy said that 96 percent of the feedback has been positive thus far, although a few have complained about certain messages. For example, one of the messages wasn’t quite understood by all, “NOBODY PUTS BABY IN A HOT CAR”, a reference to the Patrick Swayze character Johnny’s line in the movie Dirty Dancing “nobody puts Baby in a corner.”
The messages are coupled with the year-to-date traffic deaths. In Iowa, the latest figure is 233 fatalities as of 9/18/2015. Nearly 40% of those fatalities were not wearing a seat belt! It’s hard to understand why in the world, in this day and age, any person would not wear a seat belt? I guess we have to chalk that up to natural selection.
According to the National Safety Council, more than 1 in 4 vehicle deaths involves the use of a cell phone.¹ A statistic that is likely underreported. And in the U.S., 9 people die each day and another 1,153 were injured in crashes in 2014 that were reported to involve distracted driving.² So please, get off your phone and drive, and get your heads out of your apps. Life is too short and it can wait!