Life is full of distractions. Driving can offer a rare moment of escape from the buzzing of our smart phones and the demands of the day. By making the inside of our vehicles a refuge instead of a workspace, we send the message to our children that distractions are a choice, not a necessity. Too many Ohioans have learned from experience that picking up the phone to text even for a few seconds can forever alter the course of someone’s life.
September’s Safe Driving Awareness Month is a time to consider the consequences of distracted driving and hold each other to a higher standard. For the young drivers who are taking the steering wheel for the first time as they return to school this fall, adults set the standard for safe driving. When we check a work email from behind the wheel, we send the message to the young people around us that the risk we’re taking is acceptable.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Back in 2013, the devastating impact of distracted driving made front-page news when Maria Tiberi, the daughter of Columbus sports anchor Dom Tiberi, tragically died after her car crashed into the back of a semi-truck. The Tiberi family has taken Maria’s story into schools to share the personal impact of distracted driving with the hope that other families might avoid the pain they’ve endured.
The story of Maria Tiberi and thousands of other Ohioans inspired the Ohio legislature to pass legislation designating every September as Safe Driving Awareness Month. Though my colleagues and I have passed legislation to promote safe driving by making texting and driving illegal, we recognize that too many Ohioans are not getting the message. For drivers under 18, a conviction for texting and driving can result in a 60-day license suspension or $150 fine, but over 70 percent of teen drivers admit to doing it anyway. The consequences are sobering. According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, 13,261 drivers in Ohio crashed while distracted in 2015. Thousands were seriously injured and 43 drivers and passengers lost their lives.
Every person whose life has been irreversibly impacted by distracted driving knows that in one moment, everything can change. Consider that a vehicle traveling at 55 mph will cross the length of a football field in roughly five seconds; that is about the same amount of time it takes to read the average text. If we are not willing to drive down a football field blindfolded, common sense says that we also shouldn’t be willing to spend an equal amount of time looking away from the road at our phones.
September is an opportune time to focus on the risks of distracted driving, but we must be vigilant every month of the year. If you’re the parent of a young driver, remind them that even if they’re mostly focused on the road, the driver in the car two lanes over may be out hunting for Pokemon or taking selfies with the latest Snapchat filters. None of us can control the actions of others, but we can make sure that we and our family members are doing the best we can to stay alert and protect ourselves on the road. Like the Tiberi family, we can share stories that encourage our friends and neighbors to think twice about picking up the phone or digging around for something on the car floor instead of watching the road. By example, we can demonstrate to new drivers that their lives are more important than whatever is competing for their attention.
This September, I invite you to join me in promoting safe driving practices in our local community. Let’s commit to making our vehicles an escape from distractions, not a place to catch up on work or text messages. The lives of our family members, friends and neighbors are too precious to take the risk.