First Place 2018: Jordan Jett

jordan jett

Moulton, AL

I am a senior at Lawrence County High school and graduating tenth in my class. I have ran cross country each year while in high school and helped win a state championship two of those years. Next year I will be attending the University of North Alabama to become a teacher. My hobbies include reading and being with my Siberian Husky, Ginger.

Distracted Driving Essay

“Jordan Jett, born June 12, 2000, died April 3, 2018, survived by her parents Errek and Beth and her sisters, Jenny and Katie.” These were the words I heard as I was removed from class recently for my school’s “Every Fifteen Minutes” program. The main focus of this program is to make students aware of the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances. However, distracted driving was covered as well. The realism of hearing your obituary read, the mock wreck, the trial and the funeral made an impact on me and most of my friends. Was it a lasting impact though? Just one week after I was “killed” for the program I wrecked my vehicle because I was distracted by my phone while driving home from work.

Just this week I was driving home from town late at night. I had my phone next to me so that I could see when I received a message. When I was about five minutes away from home I noticed my phone screen lit up and I picked it up to respond. Normally I do not text and drive, especially when others are in the vehicle with me. However, tonight I was intrigued by my friend’s message and seeing no one else on the road I slowed down and tried to respond. At that moment it felt like things were moving in slow motion. Before I could finish typing I looked up to see my truck headed straight for a mailbox. Knowing how much trouble I would be in if I hit a mailbox I swerved back on the road but shortly lost control. My truck skidded into a power line pole and proceeded to slide across the road and come to a stop in a random yard. Initially, I did not think much damage had been done, but when I turned the lights on I quickly realized the window had shattered and glass was covering me. Realizing in that moment what a huge mistake I had made I called my dad and drove myself home carefully. As I have retold this story over the past few days the first question remains “Are you okay?” rather than “How did this happen?”. This has opened my eyes to how many people truly care about me. If the damage had been done to the driver’s side I most likely would have been seriously hurt. Within the span of a few seconds my life and the lives of those around me could have been drastically changed. Never in my life did I imagine I would cause a wreck by texting. Similarly, throughout the whole ordeal never did I think I would be hurt. I felt almost invincible, but now realize that is not the case. I am fortunate to have walked away without any injuries and have learned the hard way how dangerous it is to drive while being distracted.

There are many ways to be distracted while driving. For example, changing the radio, talking and joking around with others in the vehicle or simply having your mind focused on other things. However, the greatest distraction for drivers, especially young drivers, is the cell phone. My generation has grown up literally with a phone in our hands. Our smart phones allow us to talk, text, listen to music, access social media and many other things. Iphones ( and probably android devices) have a feature called “Do not disturb while driving.” This tool negates the use of the phone when it senses movement. This tool has to manually be turned on. At a minimum, drivers ought to use this feature. However, the problem with a manual setting, at least with regards to my generation, is that the temptation or allure of using the phone is too strong. This type of technology could be mandatory in all phones or even in all vehicles. Though a mandatory feature would certainly be beneficial to drivers, that would prove to be overkill. In other words, a mandatory or automatic lock on phones or in vehicles would affect the passengers’ use of their phones.

This type technology could be applied to younger drivers. Instead of automatic blocking, if parents or guardians had the ability to control this feature they could prevent those driving (but not those riding) from using their cell phone. Other controls could be used if that young driver could not override it. For example, if all phones had some type of blocking technology and the steering wheel or seat belt had a device which communicates with all phones which in turn would have the ability to block out electronic signals within the immediate area of the driver. This type of approach would make it where the driver could not talk on the phone while moving, but would not hinder the other passengers or occupants from using their phones.

I’ve heard it told that sometimes to go forward that you have to go back. Many years ago drivers were taught to have two hands on the steering wheel at all times at either the ten and two o’clock or three and nine o’clock positions. Instead of looking for technological advances to address the problems of drivers using their cell phones, what if operating a vehicle required the constant use of two hands on the steering wheel. This could be monitored by have touch sensors on the steering wheel. These sensors could communicate with all cell phone models. If the steering wheel sensed that a hand (or two) was removed from then it all cell phones in close proximity could be disabled. This type of technology (with regards to the steering wheel) is similar to the safety feature on riding lawn mowers that cut off when the seat senses the rider has gotten out of the seat.

Addressing the problem of distracted driving must be approached from two directions. First, educating drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. As I mentioned at the beginning of this essay my school put on the Every Fifteen Minutes program recently. This national program is geared toward driving while impaired. If this program, or other programs with the same degree of realism could be developed and presented to high school students then it would raise awareness. The second prong of addressing this problem is through some sort of technology. One shortcoming of these proposed solutions (and any other solution) is that some people have a stronger connection, or addiction, to their phone than to operating a motor vehicle safely. These people are like me and think that they can drive safely while using their phone and that they will never wreck or cause a wreck. Some of these people will take whatever steps to overcome any disabling technology. However, many drivers will simply learn a new normal and modify their past behaviors. Even changing the mindset of some drivers would the roads safer for us all.