Statistics, common sense, and my own experiences demand I pen these words. A few days ago I experienced a prescient event while driving through a major metropolitan area. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I saw dead people driving cars.
- the fact of knowing something before it takes place; foreknowledge.
Literally? Figuratively? You tell me.
My car was in the center lane of a sweeping curving road with three lanes going in each direction. As the road began a long curve to the left and my car was moving along at 45 miles per hour, I glanced to my right and looked directly into the driver’s window of a vehicle maintaining a speed equal to mine. The young girl had her head tilted down so far her chin was against her chest. She was staring intently at the screen of a handheld smartphone.
I immediately glanced to my left, only to see that driver was also keeping pace and staring at his phone as well. His phone was resting in the center of his steering wheel. Unlike the young girl, he was middle aged and was typing rapidly.
Uncomfortable with my surroundings, I sped up quickly and tightened the space between my vehicle and the truck I was trailing. Feeling better for a moment I relaxed a little, then realized the two distracted drivers behind me might very well fail to stop or slow and could run into the back of my car. Looking for options I glanced to my right. Beside my hurtling car was a vehicle, matching my speed, that was also being driven by someone intently entering information into his phone. Looking to my left I saw the same thing happening.
Moments later we all began slowing, then stopped, at a red traffic light. Looking around I saw the same four people continuing to engage the little machines in their hands. I was behind a large truck and forward to my left and right were other cars. Not being able to see what the drivers were doing in those vehicles, I could only surmise it was possible they were also similarly distracted.
At that moment I realized, with near certainty, that one or more of these people would someday be involved in a distracted driving accident. Possibly involving serious injuries and fatalities. That’s when the phrase, “I see dead people” crossed my mind.
A few minutes later I merged onto an interstate highway and increased my speed to the posted 75 mph speed limit. Shortly thereafter I eased up beside two vehicles traveling a little slower than the full 75 mph limit and noticed both drivers were young men looking down at smartphones and typing rapidly. I matched their speeds and clocked them at 73 mph. I hit my horn to get their attention, but they were so distracted by their devices and/or music they didn’t respond in any manner. I slowed down and kept my distance from them. For the next ten miles or more they continued on together, weaving in and out of their lane at more than 70 miles per hour.
I again considered my belief that I was possibly seeing more dead people.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2014, 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. That was two years ago. A statistical projection of traffic fatalities for the first half of 2016 shows that an estimated 17,775 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes. This represents an increase of about 10.4 percent as compared to the 16,100 fatalities that were reported to have occurred in the first half of 2015. The U.S. Government is currently evaluating those numbers to determine how many were related to distracted driving.
A 2009 study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reviewed commercial vehicle accidents. FMCSA statisticians concluded that text messaging creates an increased accident risk 23 times greater than driving without distraction.
Other studies indicate that sending or receiving a text message distracts a driver for about 5 seconds. That represents a distance of about 300 feet at typical highway speeds and reflects a car that is not being managed and is, essentially, driving itself.
According to NHTSA, each day in 2013 in the United States, over 8 people were killed and 1,161 injured in crashes reported to involve a distracted driver.
In light of what I witnessed a few days ago, as well a thorough review of well-established facts and stats, I’m even more convinced that the roadways are far more dangerous that any of us realize. Moreover, I can say with disappointing confidence that I do, indeed, see dead people.
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