Tomorrow, June 28th, is the three-year anniversay of the tragic death of five friends. The girls were on their way to a summer cottage, driving in a very safe car on a very safe country road. Having just graduated from high school, the friends were practically giddy with the promise of their bright futures. But fate has a way of changing our best laid plans. And for these five friends, the story would end in tragedy.
The road was two lanes. After passing a slower car and integrating back into traffic, the SUV driven by one of the five friends, only seventeen, suddenly swerved into the other lane, hitting a tractor trailer and bursting into flames within seconds of the collision. Evidence that the driver's cell phone was in use emerged, in particular, texting.
Would you get in a car and drive after having four alcoholic beverages? Hopefully not, because even if you're a regular drinker, you'll still be impaired. And no one wants a DUI or DWI on their driving record. But beyond the legal implications, you don't want to hurt yourself or others. Did you know that texting while driving is like driving after consuming four alcoholic drinks? That's how impaired you are--that's how distracted you are.
Did you know that 11 teens EACH DAY are killed in the United States from text-related driving accidents? I didn't. The first I heard of texting while driving was three years ago. It would be something like typing on a very small computer while also keeping your eyes on the road, the other cars, and looking for those "unexpected" moments that ALWAYS occur, like a sudden stop from the car in front of you, a deer crossing, or even a human. It never even occurred to me that people would attempt to text while driving, but then again, at the time, I was in my late-thirties. My son, however, was in high school, one grade below the girls who died. He knew two of them. It would take more than a year for him to get his license after that; the thought of being responsible for the death of others was simply too overwhelming. And I can't say I blame him.
At this time of year, I can't help but think of those five friends and the tragedy that followed what was certainly a very innocent mistake. As parents, we struggle with the possibilities of innocent mistakes like that one. Because at a certain point, your children become socially independent and you can't be there to prevent what can be irreparable damage to your child's life, and possibly, the life of others.
One of the five was a single child, no siblings. She wasn't the driver. She was a passenger in the backseat. She may not have even known her friend was texting while driving. It may have only been a second or two before she looked up and saw the oncoming tractor trailer. It is for her parents I feel for the most. But even with having other children, no one can replace a child lost. The tragedy for all the parents involved is staggering...beyond words.
I don't text though I know some of my contemporaries do; I don't even have texting on our cell phone plan. Recently, my son asked to turn on the feature. After a few weeks, he told me to cancel it. The benefits of texting on your cell phone include quiet communication, or having a conversation no one can hear. But is it worth it??? I have a friend who is never without her cell phone, when we're at lunch, when we're in a store, when we're walking outside...and it's frankly annoying. Because everytime it rings or makes a jingle for a text, the phone comes out and our "real" person-to-person interaction is disconnected. Most states have laws about using cell phones while driving but do we need laws to tell us things that should come naturally? Apparently, we do. And the reason we do is because we, as a society, as a culture, have become increasingly (and ironically) disconnected from each other by virtue of such technology. Cell phones are great for emergencies...you know, if you're in an accident, if you're car dies, if you're disabled and need assistance, if you get mugged...but we have fully integrated what started as emergency technology into our society completely. And we're not better for it. We're dying.
I'm not saying throw away your iPhones and Blackberries--far from it. But don't abuse convenience technology. When you're with a friend, for "real," put away the phone and keep it away. When you're driving, drive. Don't talk or text. When you're in the check out line in a store and your phone rings, let it go to voicemail. When you've finished your business, you can call back whoever it may be. We've become a society without manners, rude, chaotic and undisciplined. The results of which are tragic, a tragedy that will only continue from here if we don't get smarter.
And I know, I know...what if it's an emergency? Honestly, how many times in the last year has a cell phone call or text been an emergency? And even if you can count one or two that have been, especially if you have children, the majority of your calls and texts aren't. If you feel like it's possible the call or text could be an emergency, excuse yourself to briefly check on the number of the incoming call or text. If it's not the number of your child's school or a related text, apologize and put the phone away.
In the meantime, please remember the five friends who died in a text-related car accident. And don't use "Tbad" while driving. Pull over to a safe place and bring the car to a complete stop. If a call or text is THAT important, than it's worth taking the extra time to do this. Answer the text with "Tbad" and put your phone away--in the glove comparment of your car or zipped in an interior pocket of your purse. Remove the temptation totally. Life existed long before the cell phone, before bluetooth, before texting. And it will again.
Drive safely this summer...and more importantly, TEXT safely!!!
Until next time, dearest readers....