April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month!
Readers of this blog know that I’ve had other jobs before starting my stint here. Among these, you can count “neuroscientist” and “driving researcher” among them. And it’s largely because of these experiences that I’ve taken a keen interest in recognizing April as National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
Facts about injuries stemming from car accidents
Basically, from being a neuroscientist who specialized in studying how different forms of brain damage impact various types of human cognition, I’ve had to both learn and teach about the injuries associated with car crashes. For the most recently-available statistics, we find that there are over 2,000 deaths and more than 166,000 injuries resulting from car crashes every year. Importantly, of those 166,000 injuries, over 10,000 represent serious injuries, many (if not most) of which results in permanent brain damage.
The brain damage here is particularly nasty – typically, when the body comes to an abrupt stop from crash impact, the brain is still moving inside the skull. The brain will then smash against one of the skull’s interior walls and then bounce back and hit the interior skull wall on the opposite side. This is known as coup-contrecoup, and represents two points of very significant damage to the brain. Then there is also the problem of shearing, which is a fancy way of saying the brain is damaged from severe twisting caused by sudden acceleration and deceleration. In the worst cases, the brain literally looks like jam after shearing trauma.
Even if the injuries listed above don't result in death or coma, they still cause serious, persistent changes in the victim, leading to deficits in both motor and cognitive functioning. I’ve seen such patients, and it is soul-crushingly tragic to see the harm that has come to them.
The avoidable cause of car crashes: Distracted/Impaired driving!
And this is where my experience in impaired driving research comes into play. Because I also know that what makes car crashes more tragic is that many of these situations could have been avoided. In a distressing number of cases, the car accidents that lead to such horrific injuries stemmed from distracted or impaired driving, of all things. It’s hair-raisingly frustrating because the bad driving wasn’t necessary at all.
One of the main problems here is that most people, even well-intended ones, fail to realize that each and every road-worthy vehicle in transit is a fast-moving missile. We don’t think of them this way because we have absolutely no intention of using our cars, trucks, and motorcycles as weapons, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are propelling thousands of pounds of hard plastics and steel at speeds that can shatter houses upon impact. Now imagine what such impact would do to frail human bodies. You know, besides the brain damage I mentioned above.
It's obvious that most of us haven't given such gruesome details much thought. How else would you explain the following statistics?
- In 2008, over 10 MILLION drivers have driven while under the influence of illicit drugs, especially cannabis
- Between 2008 and 2010, nearly 750,000 Canadians have admitted to having driven after drinking 2 drinks int he preceding hour (i.e., over the legal drinking limit)
- 660,000 U.S. drivers use their cell phones while driving
While public awareness methods have made considerable headway in reducing (but sadly not eliminating) driving impairments due to substance (ab)use, the same cannot be said about distracted driving caused by cell phone use (especially from texting). Widespread texting is a relatively-new phenomenon, and as such, the public consciousness regarding the dangers of texting and driving has yet to form.
What we can do to reduce distracted driving
Well, fortunately, more socially-conscious companies and organizations (like U-Haul) are doing their part to try and support National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. We're doing our part by posting about the month, and we've already shared tweets on the dangers of distracted driving. However, a select few bear repeating:
- Using a cellphone while driving makes you 4 times more likely to crash
- Texting while driving makes you TWENTY-THREE TIMES MORE LIKELY TO CRASH
- Functionally, using a cellphone while driving is worse than drunk driving
People have to be made aware of these dangers, especially since we (particularly Canadians) appear to be absolutely in love with our modern technological marvels. And while our mobile devices certainly enable us to do a great many things that make life easier, there is a major dark side to all of the conveniences of telecom: We endanger ourselves and society if we don't treat technology with the respect it is due.
Getting back to National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, you can do your part by becoming more informed and to stop texting or using your cellphone while driving. You can also urge those you care about to:
- Stop using cell phones while driving
- Recognize that hands-free devices offer no safety benefit (seriously, they DON'T)
- Understand the dangers of the cognitive distraction to the brain
- Tell others about the dangers of cell phone distracted driving
You really have to ask yourself: Would it kill you to text after you arrive at your destination? Because I really have to tell you: It could kill you if you don't.
We at Cimpl love technology, but we love our community even more. We earnestly hope that you'll join us in becoming safer drivers this April and every other month of the year as well!
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