Third Place 2023: Anna Waldrop

Anna Waldrop Scholarship w

About Anna

Senior at Guntersville High School. She will be attending the University of Alabama to pursue a degree in Nursing. After earning her Bachelor’s, she plans to transfer to UAB to earn her Master’s and become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.

Distracted Driving Essay

“How many times have you been driving down the road and you look over and a driver has their telephone in their hand looking down and either texting or watching the screen?  My mother has drilled in my head since I was very young to not drive while distracted or under the influence.  I remember when she was teaching me how to drive and I would get so angry because she would not let me listen to my music and said I needed to have silence to concentrate and not be distracted.  I have been driving for almost two years and I now realize what she meant.  She really was looking out for my safety as well as other drivers on the road.  Several times a week I drive from Guntersville to Boaz on Highway 431 and this drive is not for the faint of heart.  You have to fully concentrate on the drive because someone will pull out in front of you, turn without signaling or not paying attention because they are looking at their phone!  

Since I found out about the topic of this essay I have really been thinking about what is the best way to educate drivers about the dangers of distracted driving.  I think we start young and have annual poster contests starting in elementary schools about the dangers of distracted driving.  Each year when the teachers are going over the rules for the poster contest, they can do a lesson about distracted driving and how very important it is to focus and give 100% of your attention to the road.  The cost is very nominal and could be sponsored by a local government agency, local education foundation or civic organization.

A monthly social media blitz sponsored by automobile insurance companies would also be a great way to educate about distracted driving.  Driving and putting on makeup, texting or talking on the telephone, talking to other passengers and interacting with the car’s infotainment system are just a few of the dangerous ways for a driver to be distracted.  Speaking of infotainment systems, there is a myth that since vehicles come with this and built into the vehicle that it must be safe.  The fact is a National Safety Council (NSC) survey found more than fifty percent of drivers believe this myth.  These systems can be just as dangerous as telephones and this could be included in the campaign.  Another solution that could be presented to drivers in this campaign is putting your phone in the back seat out of reach or getting in the habit of turning the phone off or in airplane mode before starting the vehicle.  This would be a great way to not drive while distracted and if a baby or small child in the back seat, it would also help to not forget that their child is back there because most people will not go very far without their phone.

A more dramatic/drastic idea to educate the community would be to put a totaled vehicle that was involved in a distracted driving accident in front of a high school or heavily traveled intersection and put a very large sign that has “I only looked at my phone for a few seconds…”  I am not sure how well this would be received but always an option to consider.  There would not be a lot of cost to this and maybe a local towing company would donate their services and possibly be able to provide the wrecked vehicle.  If this would cause too much controversy, maybe a billboard with a picture of a wrecked vehicle could be just as effective.

Many drivers think they have to have their phone on because their job depends on it and feel that they cannot afford to miss a call, text or email.  Car crashes are the number one cause of workplace fatalities with distracted driving being a leading factor according to the NSC.  More employers are recognizing this and are adopting cell phone policies that ban the use of driving and use of cellular device. OSHA could do a safety campaign to emphasize the importance of safe driving.  They could incentivize companies with a strong policy banning driving and using a telephone.  Companies should have weekly or monthly safety meetings and always stress the importance of not driving distracted and that breaking this policy could lead to disciplinary action up to and including discharge.  No text, email or phone call is worth losing your job or life over.

Driver apps or insurance trackers are also available to help with safer driving and give a financial benefit to those that drive safe.  Perhaps if all insurance companies offer this, fewer distracted drivers would be on our busy roadways since seven percent of all drivers at any given time are using their phones while driving.  Not all parents may know about the driving safety apps so an idea would be to have a list of safe driver apps that are available at insurance companies, Department of Motor Vehicles, High Schools/colleges and doctor offices.  The posters from the poster contest I mentioned earlier could also be hung at these locations.

I have my own very personal story regarding distracted driving.  My mother, sister and I were driving to Florida for vacation.  We were so excited to be going to the beach for a week and we were talking about what all we were going to do.  A car to in the lane to the left of us had both of their hands on their phone and using their knees to guide the steering wheel when they started to veer over into our lane and my mom had to swerve and honk to avoid a collision.  It all happened so fast and it was so scary.  I saw firsthand how dangerous distracted driving could be and I am so thankful that this near collision did not end tragically and we made it to the beach safely.  I also understood why my mom emphasized being a defensive driver and why you have to concentrate while driving and be aware of all of your surroundings but please don’t tell her I said that.”