BY KENDYL COUNTS
There’s nothing quite like a weekend drive, riding on the passenger side with a friend behind the wheel and a song on the radio. The windows are down, the sun is out, and the moment is perfect- until the driver reaches over and claws at the center console for their phone. It’s customary to watch uncomfortably as they open up iMessage and, with their eyes darting between the road and their conversation, attempt to send a reply.
It’s unnerving to be the one riding on the passenger side, aware of the consequences of the recklessness at hand yet feeling utterly helpless to prevent it. Often passengers will convince themselves that the chance of an accident is slim, that their driver knows what they are doing, and that they only looked at their phone briefly, anyway. Passengers who don’t want to come across as overbearing, especially if the driver is older and not as close to them (like a friend’s parent) might elect to bite their nails in silence. However, when at the mercy of a distracted driver, not speaking up can be a death sentence.
“Some people seem to think that they’re invincible when they’re driving because they haven’t experienced the fear that comes with a near death experience,” Junior Stav Sharoni said. “For the person sitting in the passenger seat, it’s extremely scary because their life is in danger and the situation is completely out of their control.”
Drivers often do not consider others when they make the decision to text on the road. They don’t realize that they are putting their passengers in a distressing situation that could turn dangerous within a second; all they are worried about is what’s for dinner, or who they’re hanging out with that night.
Regardless of how long it takes, a quick text can turn into a last text in a matter of seconds when it’s sent from the road. According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, a person who is texting will have their eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. The number is, however, deceptively small; when traveling at 55 miles per hour, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, 2009). Things happen rather quickly on the road, and a driver who peeks at their phone is at risk of missing critical visual stimuli that would normally keep them safe. Even if the driver at fault emerges unscathed from the wreckage, it’s not uncommon for the effects of the incident to extend to innocent victims in spite of their best efforts to drive safely.
“Texting while driving is not only unsafe for you but also for the drivers around you,” Junior Lexi Shectman said. “The text will be there when you stop driving; it’s not worth your life or the ones that surround you.”
Few matters are so dire that they require a response while the recipient operates a four thousand pound vehicle. Still, many feel the need to acknowledge the notification, bothered by the idea that an unopened message is lingering on their home screen. It’s difficult to resist the allure of words that have yet to be heard, but it’s time to recognize that giving in to this temptation endangers the driver, their passengers, and anyone in their vicinity. As revealed by AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign, 97 percent of teens know texting while driving is dangerous, yet 43 percent of them admit to sending texts while driving. Car “accidents” can no longer be considered “accidents” when a victim has made a conscious decision to engage in hazardous habits.
It’s comforting to assume that these accidents are rare and likely won’t affect you, or that you’ve been driving for a full year now and are finally experienced and proficient enough to text and drive safely. Unfortunately for those convinced that they are exempt from injury, statistics don’t lie, and the National Safety Council reports that texting while driving causes 1,600,000 accidents each year.
Campaigns to prevent texting and driving have come and gone, but the issue persists. While temporary solutions exist, like cars that automatically stop before a collision, the risk will not completely fade until drivers are held accountable for choosing socializing over safety.