I spend a lot of time in the car. Given both my profession as a travel writer and the fact that I live in a rural area and commute sometimes as much as four hours round-trip on any given day to the nearest city for meetings and other events, I’d wager to say that I’m behind the wheel more than your average person. And I’ll be the first to admit that in the past I’ve been guilty of distracted driving—and then a small person came into my life and made me rethink everything.
When my niece was born, my sister and her husband told my mom, who keeps her five days a week, that she was never to drive with the dogs in her lap or use a phone when Charlotte was in the car with her. Now that I live close enough to pick her up from school or just keep her for the day, she’s in the car with me often, as well. And while previously I didn’t think much about answering a call or shooting off a response to a text while behind the wheel—I know, I KNOW, it’s a terrible habit and one I’m still working to break—I’ve made a concerted effort to keep my hands off my phone when I’m in the car, with or without my 28-pound bundle of niece joy. Not to mention, our last move put us in a neighborhood for the first time in my adult life, a neighborhood full of kids (and deer by the dozens) and one with three school zones directly outside of its entrance. It’s more important than ever that I remain distraction-free.
The problem with smartphones
Smartphone use is only increasing. In fact, in 2019, minutes on mobile phones are expected to exceed minutes spent watching TV, which is a mind-blowing statistic.
Some alarming smartphone statistics:
- The number of U.S. adults who use social media nearly tripled—from 26 to 72 percent.
- 70 percent of U.S. teens use social media hourly or almost constantly, compared to 34 percent in 2012.
- 7 in 10 drivers say their smartphone has become essential for getting around.
- More than 80 percent of car-share drivers use their smartphone while driving.
These are the most common smartphone activities people say they partake in while driving:
- Read a text, email or social media (71%)
- Choose music (71%)
- Text/email/post to social media (59%)
- Search the internet (56%)
- Visit internet websites (53%)
- Look at picture/watch video (51%)
- Take picture/record video (48%)
- Video chat (34%)
- Play games (29%)
Those last few are absolutely mind-boggling to me—put that game down, right now! These distractions are also expanding into other forms of transportation, with 4 in 10 people admitting to “e-scooting” and biking distracted.
The good news is that 96 percent of drivers are aware of the dangers of smartphone use while driving— though 83 percent admit to still doing it and nearly a quarter don’t see it as a problem—and AT&T’s It Can Wait continues to raise awareness. To date, more than 38 million pledges have been made to not drive distracted.
How I’ve personally become a safer driver
Since Charlotte was born—and since so many friends I know have gotten injured in terrible wrecks—I’ve implemented the following tips into my driving routine:
I turn off my notifications. Switching my texts and calls to silent or “do not disturb” when driving means that I can focus on the road ahead of me and wait to answer all calls or texts when I get to my destination. Because, yes, it can wait. There’s also the option of downloading the free AT&T DriveMode® app from the Google Play store that can silence incoming text messages when you’re driving and automatically send a customizable auto-reply message in response.
I queue up a podcast or playlist of music. Adopting podcasts into my routine a few years back has made all the difference in the world to honing my focus on the road ahead of me and not looking at my phone. With as little sleep as I get on most days, having a storyline to suck me in also keeps me from getting drowsy behind the wheel. On some days when I really need an energy boost—or want to sing along instead—I’ll switch it up and put on my ultimate Taylor Swift playlist or a collection of 90’s hip-hop or 80’s hair bands, depending on my mood. This week, it’s audiobooks as SVV and I spend about 20 hours in the car road-tripping across Western Canada.
I have a copilot. About 50 percent of the time, I’m in the car with SVV, and the majority of that time, he’s driving. But it’s helpful to have a passenger who can do any task—like change the radio station, for example—that lets the driver keep his/her eyes on the road ahead.
I map my destination in advance. 7 in 10 people say their phone is essential to getting around, and I know that’s personally one of my biggest uses for the phone while in the car. And it’s tricky sometimes not to reach for your phone while stuck behind the wheel, especially if hitting a snag in a drive like rush-hour traffic or a wreck. My solution? Download a map app with a navigator function that calls out directions to you and reroutes you around any unexpected situations, and program your end destination before you leave your house. Then mount your phone on your dash where you won’t feel the need to touch it, or plug your phone into the auxiliary port to display your phone’s map if your car has a screen functionality.
Want to take the pledge with me?
If these statistics scare you as much as they do me—whether you worry about the fate of your kids, your nieces and nephews, your passenger or simply yourself—join the movement with me. Today is Pledge Day, and it’s time we all speak up against distracted driving. After all, 51% of people are more likely to stop driving distracted if a friend or passenger pressures them to do so, and one simple reminder could save a life.
Distracted Driving is deadly. Speak Up. It Can Wait.
No text, post, video or selfie is worth a life.