When I read that FocusDriven wants us all to give up talking on the phone while driving, in order to commemorate National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April, my first thought was "Wow. Wouldn't that be great? Too bad I don't think I have the willpower."
But then it hit me: I'd actually already been doing this for about two weeks, and I didn't need any willpower at all. All I needed was a treadmill on a concrete floor, a water bottle, a set of earbuds, my phone in one hand, a temporary total coordination fail, and gravity. Presto, a mostly-broken phone that can't be heard while I'm driving and only works in speaker mode.
In other words, a sneak preview of Distracted Driving Awareness Month. I just check the messages when I'm done driving, and respond then. I don't know if I'm just way, way less important than I thought, but there have been surprisingly few messages that made me think "Oh! This was so urgent! They needed me right away! If only I'd been able to answer while I was driving!" In fact, to be precise, there were zero of these.
So I was inspired to take a closer look at Distracted Driving Awareness Month and at FocusDriven. FocusDriven is a nonprofit organization that provides support and advocacy for victims of car crashes involving distraction by cell phone, and also works to shine a light on the dangers of using phones while driving by putting human faces on the horrific consequences. If you want an example, just look at the bios of their board members, most of whom have lost children to cell-using drivers.
Or you could look at the new visual campaign
they've launched in partnership with the marketing firm Team One. Together, they've created posters, which they're encouraging people to download and share in whatever way they wish; depicting visual memorials of loved ones lost to distracted-driving crashes. The posters show a few common text abbreviations—OMG, LOL, and a smiley emoticon—made out of flowers, candles, pictures, teddy bears, and other mementoes left at the sites of crashes.
These posters aren't just visually arresting, though they are that. They are compelling because they're a visual demonstration of exactly what happens when someone dies because of a distracted driver. The visual of the memorial hits you with all the force of just how gone that person is, and how empty the hole they left. Then the shape of it hits you with the frivolousness of the distraction that took that life. LOL.
FocusDriven is encouraging people to make their own memorials
as well, to commemorate the people they've lost to distracted driving, and they provide some guidelines for how to make them. They also tell you how to share them in a way that connects them to FocusDriven and to National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, so that these personal memorials will help spread awareness of the human cost that's already been paid for distracted driving.
I've written about distracted driving before, but I've always focused more on texting, emailing, and the other types of electronic distraction that physically pulled the driver's eyes away from the road. I've touched on the question of "cognitive distraction," but not spent much time on it. (I don't know if that was partly because I find it convenient to talk on the phone while driving; if so, shame on me.)
But there was one story, among the bios of the FocusDriven board members, that really struck me. It stood out from the others, all of whom concerned people whose loved ones had been innocent victims of a distracted driver—because in this one, the loved one was
the distracted driver. She was a teenaged girl who was talking on her phone, didn't have her mind fully on the road, tried to pass at the wrong time, and died. Her mother, a FocusDriven board member, said in her bio that she'd educated her children about texting and driving, but not about talking and driving.
How would I feel if one day, one of my children crashed because they were talking on the phone, and I knew that they'd learned from me that this was safe? That they'd seen me do it for years, so figured this must just be how people drive?
I don't know how I'd feel, since I can hardly bear how it feels even thinking about how it would feel. But I do know this: I'm printing out and signing the no-cell-phone-while-driving pledge
, and I'm showing it to my kids and husband. That way, even when I finally replace this mostly-broken phone, I'll have my willpower firmly in place.