April, The Month of Distracted Driving Awareness

While traveling 40 mph down one of Longmont, Colorado’s busiest roads, Brie Jenkins glanced over at her boyfriend as they approached an unmistakable red light. She knew there was something wrong. With his head drooped to the phone in his lap, Jenkins began to scream for her life while the car bolted closer to the red pickup truck obstructing their path.

“I remember feeling my seat belt against my hips and being shaken around in this car, it felt like it just kept going on and on,” she said.

Despite the multitude of laws to prevent distracted driving, it accounts for over 13 percent of car crashes in Colorado according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. To put that into perspective, every day an average of 43 crashes are caused by distracted drivers in the state.

Researchers and state insurance regulators, such as the Colorado Division of Insurance, all believe that distracted driving is a major cause of more frequent, costly and deadly accidents. As a result, insurance rates have soared since 2010 which is only three years after the introduction of the iPhone. 

While cell phone use may be the most associated distraction, changing the radio, eating food, and looking at a GPS are a few more major contributors to the issue.

“Texting is some of it, but it is only a small part of the story,” Jennifer Boyd, producer, director, and writer of the 3 Seconds Behind the Wheel documentary, stated.

The documentary followed the lives of eight drivers using hidden in-car cameras over a six-month period. What was discovered put to rest the assumption that texting is the only problem. Boyd explained how people were found eating with both hands while using their knees to drive. She also mentioned that 40% of our time in cars is spent grooming ourselves.

“We don’t even know we do that,” Boyd said.

In the face of distracted driving awareness campaigns and strict laws, other forms of prevention have been conducted, all in attempts to lower the casualty statistics. In 2011, Apple released a “Do Not Disturb While Driving” function which would block incoming calls and notifications while a driver was in motion. Car manufacturers have also been adding “hands-free” access to car systems such as the radio. Chrysler’s KeySense technology and Ford’s SYNC system are examples that allow for control of the radio and Bluetooth phone through voice-recognition or steering wheel buttons.

There are multiple factors that can contribute to the reason why people continue to drive while distracted. Boyd revealed that it comes down to the fact that we as a society are bored.

“Our brains need to be more active,” she explained. Boyd believes driving a manual may even be a better choice because it requires your brain to stay alert. 

Additionally, society has a deep addiction to technology which pulls attention away from driving. Nearly every app on a smartphone has been expertly engineered to produce brain responses that account for the addictive behavior. Teenagers are not the only age group to be caught distracted by phones at the wheel, however. The 3 Seconds Behind the Wheel documentary found a variety of ages and demographics participating in the dangerous act.

“I feel like I am always looking over my shoulder now,” Boyd said, “I check my rearview mirror all the time because I am really worried about being rear-ended.”

On the day of Jenkin’s accident, she suffered seven stitches to the eyelid, five metatarsal foot fractures and a knee fracture. Two years later, she is having reconstructive surgery on her knee because it didn't heal properly. Jenkins joined the average of 86 other cars involved in accidents on that day in Colorado, all because of distracted driving.