We are all petrified to be the victim of a drunk driver. Yet, according to studies, texting drivers are impaired to the blood alcohol level of someone legally drunk. It doesn’t take an academic study to conclude that if you are not looking at the road, you are more likely to cause a collision. Think about your day today: Do you know more people who will be driving drunk or who will be texting and multitasking while driving? My prediction is you will say dramatically more texters as opposed to drinkers. Now add in other Smartphone activities like email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, ESPN, etc.
This may all sound like theory and speculation but for us this became a very tragic reality. My son, a college freshman, was in the back seat of a car, with his seatbelt on, heading to work. The driver of the car drove over a double yellow line and then head-on into an on-coming Jeep. The driver has said he fell asleep navigating on a twisting country road on a sunny summer day just before 8:00 a.m. Cell phone records show he had been texting during the drive and that the driver’s Smartphone was drawing and sending data from the internet during the drive. The collision happened when they were traveling briefly through a dead cell area so it can’t be definitively proven one way or the other about cell phone activities at impact.
In total, five people were taken to the hospital and most had serious operations. There are plenty of scars (both physically and emotionally) remaining with the other passengers. After 32 torturous days in the intensive care unit and too many damn surgeries to keep track of, we lost our son. Our son’s name is Evan Lieberman. Now you know one person that died. My concern is you will know more. I hope we are wrong with this prediction and we are trying to do something about it. We hope you will join us in this effort to make the roads safer.
We have witnessed first hand that there is very little police protocol in place to determine whether distracted driving was a factor in a collision. There are no Breathalyzer Tests for distracted operation, and police should be alert to the possibility that texting or other distracted driving may have been involved. The driver’s cell phone when Evan was injured was never recovered, nor requested by the police at the scene or subsequently. It has taken grueling efforts on our part and our own initiatives to obtain information and some degree of answers. A Department of Motor Vehicle judge recently suspended the driver’s license for a year, in part because of a finding the driver was operating a motor vehicle while using a portable electronic device (his cell phone).
There is a growing concern around the risk of teenage drivers. The current generation of teenage drivers is dramatically more dependent on Smartphones than previous generations. The teenage driving population throughout generations has always been filled with inexperienced and fearless car operators. Now those drivers who are texting and consequently impaired to the level of drunk driving seem to be causing an increase in fatalities. According to the US Department of Transportation, there was a seven percent spike of traffic casualties in 2012 as compared to the previous time period in 2011 (25,500). It seems a strange statistic because cars are being built safer and issues like teenage drunk driving is down a whopping 54 percent during the last twenty years. So what could account for the difference? Could it be the increase in popularity, dependence, and usage of Smartphones while driving?
We believe there is a need to tackle distracted driving in a similar fashion to how drunk driving was addressed decades ago. When we as a nation finally understood how lethal drunken driving was, and how vulnerable the innocent population was, we were outraged enough to do something about this behavior, both legally and socially. In a lot of ways we need to show more urgency with this current threat because Smartphone technology is so new and it is constantly evolving. Frankly, the technology is way, way ahead of the laws. It’s easier to be angry toward drunk drivers than distracted drivers because we don’t know as many. Smartphone driving is somehow more tolerable because everyone does it. There was a time when everyone was smoking a few packs of cigarettes a day and driving without seatbelts. Everyone did it. That is, until enough people understood the damage first hand.
Trust me, distracted operation can cause irreparable damage. This may be an uncomfortable topic to read about and it certainly wasn’t easy to write. It wasn’t, however, the toughest thing I have written. It was much more difficult writing my son’s eulogy.