Question of the Week

November 7, 2005


A true story:

"It was a Thursday night last October, about 10:30 p.m. Amanda and a friend had been at a high school football game... On their way back, Amanda came up on something unexpected in the road. ... It was a roll of carpet about 20 feet long, right in the middle of the highway. ... Amanda jerked the SUV from the right lane into the left lane, then back again. The SUV fishtailed, rolled twice, and landed right side up in the grassy median. [Amanda]: I just remember looking at my car, and it was just completely gone. Like when you turned around, it looked like there was nothing there. There was no windows. And the windshield was caved in a lot. So like you could touch it, and it was just real close to your face. ... And I just remember like hyperventilating, and I couldn't catch my breath. And I was in shock, and I started shaking. ..."

In this case, the young driver was alert enough to see what was in the road. She swerved. Her car was gone, but she survived. The accident could have been worse.

"* Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15 to 20 year olds in the United States.
* In 2001, 5,341 teens were killed in passenger vehicles involved in motor vehicle crashes. Two thirds of those killed were not buckled up.
* In 2001, 3,608 drivers 15 to 20 years old were killed in motor vehicle crashes, and an additional 337,000 were injured."

"Two thirds of those killed were not buckled up." As for Amanda...

"Just two days before the accident, Amanda started wearing her seatbelt. She never had before, but a driver safety presentation at school changed her mind.
[Amanda]: If they wouldn't have came and talked to us, I don't think I would have had my seatbelt on. And it makes me think of, like, what could have happened. Like I could have went through the windshield or I could be dead, basically."

Sometimes there are external factors that make driving more dangerous (such a roll of carpet in the road). Sometimes, the factors that bring added risk and danger are right inside the car.

"Everyone is at risk from their own potential distractions while driving, as well as from other distracted drivers sharing the road. NHTSA estimates that 25% of all crashes involve some form of driver distraction. A NHTSA survey found that the most common distractions are talking with passengers, changing radio stations or looking for CDs or tapes, eating or drinking, talking on a cell phone, and dealing with kids in the back seat."

All drivers have "their own potential distractions while driving.

" While a driver may be able to handle limited distraction and drive safely in an unrealistically ideal situation, rarely are driving conditions perfect. Even if there were some sort of guarantee that driving could exist in a bubble (with no other cars, no animals, no potholes, no bad weather, and no other possible external distractions or safety concerns): reaching for a CD, grabbing a drink, or getting the cell phone can take the eyes (and mind) of the driver off the road just long enough for an unintentional swerve that could take the car off the road. In our imaginary driving world, this would mean "just" the driver, car, and potential passengers could be hurt.

In the real world...

"A car driven by a teenager ran into a crowd of people leaving a high school playoff football game Friday night in Naperville, police said. Six people were struck by the 1992 Ford Escort ... Two girls and a boy between the ages of 11 and 15, and also an adult, were taken to Edward Hospital for treatment ... The eastbound car jumped the curb, drove over a parkway and onto the sidewalk around 9:40 p.m. as hundreds people were leaving the playoff game ... There was no indication that alcohol or drugs were a factor ..."
Chicago Tribune

Drivers often think that they can both drive and handle distractions. At times this may be true. At times it may not. Driving is not what is difficult. Reacting is what is difficult. Reacting to the rolls of carpet that don't get out of the way. Reacting to the other distracted drivers that swerve into the wrong lane. Reacting to the animals that run out into the road. Reacting to the ball that just rolled into the street, and anticipating that a child may come chasing out after it.

"Avoiding aggressive and inattentive driving tendencies yourself will put you in a stronger position to deal with other people's bad driving. ... Assume the worst. Assume that drivers will run through red lights or stop signs and be prepared to react. While driving, imagine that other drivers (especially truck drivers) don't see you when you are making your way into their path. Also, keep an eye on pedestrians and pets along the road."

There is reacting, and then there is anticipating.
Beyond just: Paying attention and reacting when something happens...
There is: Paying attention and making adjustments before something happens... In case something happens...

"Watch out for the other guy. Part of staying in control is being aware of the drivers around you and what they may suddenly do so you're less likely to be caught off guard. For example, if a car speeds past you on the highway but there's not much space between the car and a slow-moving truck in the same lane, it's a pretty sure bet the driver will try to pull into your lane directly in front of you. Anticipating what another driver may do prepares you to react."

Sometimes, driving involves, "Anticipating what another driver may do." Sometimes, it involves anticipating more than just what is happening with other cars...

"Jorge is one of 74 pedestrians killed on San Jose streets since 2001. From 2001 to 2004, 45 percent of road deaths in San Jose were pedestrians -- markedly higher than the national average of 34 percent in urban areas. ..."

While drivers need to pay attention, they are not the only ones.

Another true story:

"Drivers stopped on the 45 mph expressway see him [Jorge] at the corner wearing a black baseball cap -- sideways as teens do -- black Nikes and pants and a dark T-shirt. The light is red for traffic on Capitol, but just as Jorge begins to cross, it flips green. Two lanes of drivers don't budge as Jorge runs across. The right lane is empty. In those moments, a 19-year-old Gavilan College student driving her '92 Honda Civic is slowing for the red light -- it turns green. She continues, but suddenly before the crosswalk, she slams on her brakes. The right side of her windshield explodes, a black form punching a large hole in the glass. The screech freezes nearby drivers. Acrid smoke from her tires billows up from skid marks that finally stop -- 77 feet from impact. Her car scoops up the boy, and his flying body comes to a twisted rest on a nearby island -- shoeless and hatless. One Nike lies in the street, the other across the far crosswalk. The driver sits in her car, stunned. Then hysterical."

The pedestrian, in this case, is only one of the victims.

"While millions have been spent locally to lower speeds and improve safety, careless pedestrians are as much to blame as speeding, distracted drivers. ... "

Questions of the Week:
Even if you don't drive at all, what do you need to know about distracted driving to help yourself and your friends stay safe? When you are not driving (either as a passenger or a pedestrian), what can you do help create a safer environment on the roads? If you are a driver, what will help you to remember to drive more safely? What is involved with driving more safely? If you were to create a "Road Safety" course for your peers (both drivers and non-drivers), what would you include? Statistics? Actual accident reports? Guest speakers who have been in accidents? A combination of of one or more of these elements, and others not mentioned here? What would you leave out? How (and why) would the elements chosen for your program reach your peers? How would you present it?

***Attention teens (and pre-teens): Talk to your teachers. If you create a program that they think could be used by other teachers and students around the country, send it to me. Approved programs will be posted on-line and linked to from our site.***

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

Request Question of the Week by email 
QoW Archives: 9/2002 - 8/2003 9/2003 - 8/2004 9/2004 - 8/2005 9/2005 - 8/2006 9/2006 - present

Custom Search on the AE Site