Second Place 2020: Savannah Campbell

Savannah Campbell

Florence, AL

Senior at Buckhorn High School, plans to attend Belmont University in Nashville, TN to pursue a degree in Neuroscience. She wants to use her degree to conduct research on neurological disorders.

Distracted Driving Essay

“Despite the extensive measures taken to prevent distracted driving, it is no secret that there is an alarming amount of car crashes involving the diverted attention of drivers towards eating food and drinking beverages, adjusting music, changing the climate of the vehicle, plugging in an address into the GPS, and, of course, talking and texting on cellular devices. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Nine percent of fatal crashes in 2017 were reported as distraction-affected crashes.” And though there is an astonishing amount of statistics and first-hand accounts of survival from these tragedies, the number of related crashes involving distractions increases every year. As the world continues to encourage multitasking and being productive, the more it is seen that squeezing in a few calls or a couple minutes of entertainment into the daily commute to work or school is not only theoretically easy to accomplish, but terrifyingly common.

Just today, I tapped through three Snapchat stories people took while driving and listening to music. It is a normal phenomenon. I, as with many other people my age, are used to watching things like this everyday. But, then again, we all know the usual risk– a measly twenty-five dollar ticket if caught suspiciously with a cell phone in hand. As reported by the New York Post, “Americans check their phone on average once every 12 minutes – burying their heads in their phones 80 times a day, according to new research.” Combining this information with an article from Forbes that suggests that an average U.S. driver spends “nearly an hour” daily in the car, the odds of being on a phone in a moving vehicle are frequent. This led me to do some math. The average amount of sleep we receive is around eight hours each night. That gives us sixteen hours to do normal activities. If we pick up our phones eighty times a day, this means that we pick up our phones about five times per hour. If we spend an hour each day on our commutes, this means that there are five times we unlock our phones in the car. These are five chances we take that could change our lives forever. Every. Single. Day.

I can be the first to admit that there is a certain level of anxiety I feel being away from my phone for too long. There is a certain level of anxiety I feel hearing a phone ring and not being able to answer it. There is a certain level of anxiety I feel while viewing an unanswered text. But none of these feelings amount to the anxiety I feel for my friends and family to make sure they make it home safely each night. When teens first begin driving, it is easy to stay focused. We take an entire nine week course in high school that informs us on everything we need to know about driving including all the risks of driving distracted. However, after a while, we get comfortable. We start listening to music a little bit louder, pushing the speed limit a little bit further, glancing at our cell phones at times that are a little bit riskier. We think that being more experienced makes us invincible. This is when the dangers of being inattentive in a vehicle need to be reinforced. I don’t want everyone to experience a close encounter with death to realize that the actions made in their cars have the potential to be a major catastrophic event in their life or the lives of friends and family.

The discussion needs to continuously be reopened by educators, classmates, lawmakers, bosses, and even app store companies. It shouldn’t be normal to tap through three car-filmed Snapchat stories in a row that could possibly be the last video I’ll ever see from them. It shouldn’t be normal to feel a sense of pride or humor when logging on to online classes with a phone in one hand and a steering wheel in the other. It shouldn’t be a lack of concern when pulled over for texting and driving because of the knowledge that it won’t even be a fraction of a monthly paycheck to cover it. These assumptions need to be eradicated. It begins with endorsing the use of things like the “Do Not Disturb” feature available on iPhones and businesses monitoring company phones while en route. Furthermore, supporting apps like Google Maps and even Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat to detect when in high speeds to temporarily lock the app until a normal speed is met in order to provide that extra layer of protection from temptation. Any small measure can lead to powerful impact.

Many believe that as car companies begin to implement safe driving measures in their vehicles such as hands-free calling, texting, and navigation, we are becoming safer drivers as well. Though this might be true for many, it is unusual that enough money can be saved through a few summers of babysitting and lifeguarding for teens to afford cars that are deemed “up to par” by today’s standards. We can’t wait for new models to keep us safe. We have to start keeping ourselves and our peers accountable in the present. Change “call me on the way home” to “call me when you get home.” Change “I’ll text you when I’m almost there” to “I’m about to leave the house to meet you.” We have to change the normal because distracted driving has become the normal. Discouraging these seemingly harmless behaviors has to be our first and foremost form of defense. Through showing our friends how to turn on their “Do Not Disturb” notifications, waiting to text them until they get home, and continuing to persuade apps to turn on lockdown or hands-free navigation, we can begin to drastically reduce distracted driving related accidents. Going against the normal is infinitely more important than hurting someone, hurting your friends, or even hurting yourself. A few minutes of anxious feeling being separated from a phone seems a lot more desirable than regretting a small action that could possibly change your future or the future of someone on their morning commute. “