Third Place 2021: Amelia Brodowski

Florence, AL

Senior at Whitesburg Christian Academy. She plans to attend Auburn University to pursue a degree in Journalism. Some of her favorite hobbies including writing, working out and kayaking.

Distracted Driving Essay

“It’s March 2017, and a small Texan church group is on their way back from an invigorating Spring Break retreat. Spirits are high in the 15-person van as passengers fellowship, chat, and enjoy the ride. Suddenly, a pickup truck veers into the bus’s lane, ultimately causing it to flip. When authorities arrive on the scene, 12 out of 15 passengers are dead on impact, and another is pronounced dead at the hospital. The driver of the pickup truck is reported to be stating “I’m so sorry,” repeatedly as he stares helplessly at the bleak scene in front of him. In his public apology statement, the driver admits to texting while driving, which caused the accidental killing of 13 people. Distracted driving is an unspoken epidemic in our culture today. While most people believe that distracted driving is solely texting while driving, distracted driving is exactly what it sounds like: not paying full attention to the road.

Oftentimes, it is this kind of dramatic, isolated incident that we think of when we think of the term “distracted driving.” While texting and driving is the main culprit and hence the most infamous form of distracted driving, the actual act of driving involves several motor skills that can all be seriously impaired by different external stressors. Researchers have found that distracted driving is impaired by three different forms of function: visual, manual, and cognitive. Visual function is action that involves one’s attention to their surroundings. An example of impaired visual function includes taking one’s eyes off the road to look elsewhere, whether it be intentional or unintentional; a “quick glance,” if you will. Manual function is any type of action that takes one’s hands off the wheel. An example of this is eating while driving, which has been banned in several states. The final form of function associated with distracted driving is cognitive function, which is when one is mentally distracted while driving. It is highly advised by researchers that people should not drive when overly emotional, due to the increased risk of cognitive function impairing one’s driving skills. All of these functions on their own can be potentially deadly, but texting and driving utilizes all three functions, thereby tripling one’s risk of crashing due to distracted driving. When someone is using their phone, they are automatically activating visual, manual, and cognitive function subconsciously. However, what most people don’t realize that it is not possible to multitask with these motor skills; one is either using their phone, or they are driving. It is impossible to fully pay attention to both the road and a phone.

In 2019 alone, 3,142 people died as a result of distracted driving, and over 300,000 people were involved in crashes caused by a distracted driver. The truth is that he best way one can learn is by being exposed to thorough understanding and empathy of a certain topic. A community is a group of people that any one person interacts with. It can be related to a particular topic or cause, but typically, it is made up of the people one calls their peers. I believe that we can educate our communities about the dangers of distracted driving by cultivating attitudes of intentionality in our lives and the lives of those we hold close. Intentionally-living people place their priorities above all else- they know what is important, and how to effectively position their priorities to be in line with their best interest and wellbeing. All too often in culture today, we see people acting reckless and without second thought; and, typically, these actions lead to destruction. It has become normalized in our culture today to act first, and think second – and this progressive form of thinking has become all too normalized when it comes to driving. It is not uncommon to see drivers, especially teenagers, speeding through traffic with phone in hand. While police officers are trained to give tickets to people who use their phones while driving, they aren’t able to catch everyone. Today in Alabama, the law pertaining to cell phone usage while driving only prohibits it to those under 17. If anyone 17 or under is caught using a phone while driving, their license is suspended; however, if an adult over the age of 18 is caught using their phone, they are likely to just get off with either a warning or a ticket. Personally, I believe that the only way to truly reduce distracted driving incidents is to ban ALL cell phone usage, except for bluetooth calls that don’t require the driver to pick up their phone at all. But, until laws allow for this, more proactive measures can be taken. If a driver is continually tempted to use their phone while driving, they may benefit from placing their phone in a spot that isn’t easily accessible, such as the glovebox of their car or the box inside the console.

Another way to combat distracted driving numbers is by surrounding oneself with peers who understand the importance of driving without distraction. I know that if I am driving with a friend and have something that needs to be texted, I can ask them to unlock my phone and text it for me so that I can fully focus on driving. I accredit this partially to my own fervency for driver safety and emphasis on the importance of driving without distraction. The last thing I would ever want is to endanger anyone riding in my car due to my own negligence. Another way to reduce distracted driving incidents in teenagers is to only drive one person at a time. A car full of teenagers sounds fun, but it can quickly turn rowdy and cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle.

Many tech giants recognize the dangers of distracted driving and have subsequently implemented features that aid users in their pursuit of undistracted driving. Recent tech developments such as Apple’s “Do Not Disturb While Driving” mode have made it easier for users to drive without using their phones. This mode, in particular, will send out an automated reply to any messages received while driving that says, “Sorry, I’m driving!” Often, people use their phones while driving because they think a quick reply can be given to a short text. However, these “quick replies” can often turn fatal for both the driver and other drivers on the road. Developments like Siri and voice text have made it even easier for people to send texts, change songs, and get directions without ever even looking at their phone. It is these kinds of developments that spark change in our communities. In recent years, distracted driving numbers have decreased, which is largely due to the advancements of cell phone technology today. Continuing developments in the world of technology will hopefully keep distracted driving numbers dwindling down.

There is no one fool-proof way to totally eradicate the issue of distracted driving; however, there are certain ways to educate and inform the public of the dangers of distracted driving which can allow for reform on a larger scale. Passing stricter cell phone usage laws can also seriously change the fabric of our society on the issue of distracted driving. In conclusion, distracted driving is an issue that will likely always exist. And, while we wish it wasn’t, it is in our nature to be easily distracted at times. After all, we are humans. However, with the right balance of education and reform in our society, distracted driving incidents can be reduced by the thousands.”