In 2015, there were 3,477 people killed and 391,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted driving in the United States. This includes texting, talking on the phone, eating or anything that takes a driver’s attention away from the road.
The statistics have remained consistent over the past few years, with 3,166 people killed in 2017, but in 2015 I knew someone who died while texting and driving. The statistic is scary enough, but to see that person as just a number hits pretty hard.
When I was a junior in high school, in Pilot Mountain, North Carolina, one of our friends didn’t show up to play in his basketball game. Later, we found out that he was leaving a little late and forgot something at his house. As he was rushing home, he was texting his mother. He then lost control of his car, where he ran off the road and hit two trees before the truck landed back on the road.
This incident tore our already broken community more apart. There was another wreck a year earlier, involving a car wreck by another classmate. As a whole, the community became closer, with the hospital visits and prayers around the flagpole before school started, but the hearts of so many were broken. Parents should never have to bury their child, and this happened twice in back-to-back school years.
Two days later, on a Monday, we found out during school that we have lost one of our own. It is during these moments that we will never forget. For me, I can recite where I was when I found out about the wreck and where I was when I found out about the death. The announcement came during the lunch period, but the school had already set up different things, like a notes table, where his jersey was hanging. The school tried to distract the students as much as possible, but the inevitable happened.
Most of his close friends and family were going to go by the hospital after school, but they didn’t make it that far. Before the loud buzzing of the intercom could finish, we all knew what was about to be said. Students started running out of classrooms to find their friends. Others were calling their parents. My friend and I were standing at the table and both fell to the ground. As the school became vacant, with all the students leaving early, my dad came to pick me up because he didn’t want me to drive. The rest of that night is a blur.
The funeral was scheduled for that next Saturday. The rest of that week at school was filled with distractions. There were people to talk to, like therapists and school nurses.
As our class was still learning to deal with this loss at such a young age, my friend’s mom began speaking to schools and holding awareness camps to draw more attention to distracted driving. She challenged all of us young kids to put our phones in the back seat when driving.
This might seem like an easy task, but as the years have gone by, I have forgotten about all the sleepless nights, between his death and funeral. Those days will forever be replaying through my head, but the days that followed and that feeling has begun to go away. Sometimes I find myself changing the song or talking to someone on the phone while driving.
It’s so easy to turn to my own experience, but I imagine that 3,476 other families and communities went through what I did that same year. We were not the only community that lost an athlete, son, brother or friend. The feeling of losing someone at a young age is indescribable, especially since we were still learning how to get through life.
This experience in my life has changed the views I have about distracted driving. There have been times where I have been in the car with someone, while they were eating or texting and driving. This instant has made me uncomfortable to the point where I have shared my experience with others. I never thought I would be able to talk about that situation because it has always been easier to stay quiet, but I would never want one mistake to change the course of their life the way our community had suffered.
Before another community experiences this same thing, there are some statistics that I want everyone to know. Teens are the largest group that are distracted while driving at the time of a fatal accident. This doesn’t just include texting and driving, which is a common misconception. These teens could be changing the song, eating or simply talking on the phone.
When someone looks away for five seconds, that is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field–100 yards. While you think you are only looking away for a quick second, the car actually drives a good distance, without the driver looking at the road.
The next time you think about being distracted while driving, remember that it is not just a statistic. It is a community, a family, a friend that will never be forgotten. More than just that one person will be affected in a selfless act.