Monday, September 22, 2014

What's Distracting You? Eyes on the Road!!

First off, I want to make this clear - I've always been a good driver, and I have a great driving record, though I know I'm far from perfect. I may go a little faster than I perhaps should, for instance, but still. I've had a few experiences where I've been a passenger in a car involved in a crash - some more spectacular than others. And I've been rear-ended three times. Twice by distracted drivers, and once it was totally because of weather and road conditions and probably crappy tires on the other guy's car.

Me? I've only ever driven into two accidents, both when I was a teenager.The second time I was 18, and it involved a snow storm, a slippery hill, and a city plow that blocked me from backing up out of the way when the car at the top of the hill began sliding towards me. The first time? Totally my fault and I readily admit it. I was a distracted driver.

I was 16 years old and had only been driving for a few months. Unrelated to that, I desperately wanted a cat. My mom desperately wanted to NOT have a cat. But then my friend's cat had kittens, and they desperately wanted to find them good homes. So what did I do? I asked my dad. For the record - Daddy's Little Girl, right here. I could do no wrong in his eyes, even when I clearly had. So, naturally he said yes.

I merrily drove along the 6 lane divided highway to the west end of the city to pick up my new baby. I had cleverly (ha!) brought along a box in which to carry her home. Little did I know she would prefer to be out of the box and in my lap. I placed the box on the passenger seat floor, and within minutes she was poking her way out, trying to crawl over the side. My eyes went back and forth between her and the road. And then she made it out. Without thinking I leaned over, while driving, to push her back in. As I leaned to the right, my left hand compensated by turning the steering wheel to the left. And that's when I heard and felt it.

The Object of My Distraction

Car meets concrete telephone pole. A fraction of a second earlier and it might have been a much worse outcome, but as it happened, I connected with the pole about an inch in from the front of the car and then sideswiped the full length. I corrected and got back in the lane. And kept driving.

Somehow in the process I did manage to put kitty back in her box, and she did not try to get out again. Traumatized, I imagine. My window had been open and when the pole took out the side mirror, glass shattered all over me. My only injuries were cuts and abrasions on my arm and face. The car fared much worse. I almost totaled it, with massive structural damage to the under carriage. But I was amazingly lucky. If I'd been driving in one of the right lanes, or if there had been no median, I could easily have been killed and taken others along with me. If I'd hit the pole head on? I don't want to think about it.

In the end kitty and I survived both the crash and the wrath of mom (who eventually claimed the cat as her own and spoiled her rotten). Although I named her Beauty, a dear friend of the family quickly nicknamed her Crash. And that name stuck through all her seven years with us.

A new bumper is in my future
This all came back to me this week when a young guy, 19 years old just like our eldest, rear-ended me as I was pulling into my driveway. He had friends in his vehicle with him, and though I don't think he was on a cell phone or anything, I suspect the presence of his buddies may have provided the distraction necessary to ram into a car with a signal light and brake lights on, on a 40km/hr residential road.

Not all distracted drivers are teens, by any stretch of the imagination. But lack of experience and immaturity can for sure play a role in making poor decisions on the road. It's important that we talk to our teens about the dangers of distracted driving and the various forms it can take. Don't be judgey, but do be clear - driving with your eyes and attention anywhere but on the road is just not ok.

Drivers can be distracted in so many ways, and an accident can happen in an instant. It's not just about the cellphones and texting. So, before you decide to apply your lipstick or engage in a deep conversation with your passenger, think about the road and the responsibility that comes with driving. A small mistake can have huge and life-altering consequences. Eyes on the road, baby!

What distracted driving no-nos have you seen on your travels? Have you had this conversation with your kids of driving age?

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