Our View: Get there safe; stow the phone
The sensors in the brain that cause a smoker to not just want a cigarette but to crave one and to have to have one are the same sensors that go off when we hear our cell phones chime, notifying us of new messages, emails, or phone calls.
"People are literally addicted to their cell phones," Holly Kostrzewski, the Northeastern Minnesota director of Toward Zero Deaths, a program to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities, explained during a Pressroom Podcast show at duluthnewstribune.com last week.
The addiction is proving deadly. According to AAA and other sources, every year, approximately 421,000 people are hurt in crashes involving distracted drivers; 330,000 of those are a result of texting and driving.
Every day, 11 teenagers die from texting and driving. Most teens, 94 percent of them, acknowledge the danger, but 35 percent admit to doing it anyway; 21 percent of teen drivers in fatal accidents were on their cell phones, researchers have determined.
Kostrzewski has a solution, and as radical and impossible as it may sound, for safety's sake, it demands to be considered.
"The best thing is to stow your phone in the back seat so you can't touch it," Kostrzewski said flatly. "I don't think people can handle not touching their phones (if they're within reach). So you just need to keep it away from yourself."
That's how far we've come. That's how dangerously tempting our cell phones have become — to all of us, not just teens.
"Driving is a time to drive. It is not a time to catch up with someone. It is not a time to plan a play date or a meeting or a soccer practice or to figure out which soccer field you're supposed to be going to," Kostrzewski said. "Nobody leaves the house and thinks, 'I'm going to kill somebody today.' No one ever thinks that. But it could be any of us, any of us who has ever touched our phones while driving."
Preventing and ending distraction-caused crashes and deaths isn't just the responsibility of drivers, either, as Kostrzewski also pointed out during the 30-minute broadcast.
"If you know your loved one is on the road, don't be sending them a whole text thread about groceries to pick up or, 'Will you do this favor when you get to town?' Just let them drive," she said. "There have been a lot of parents who, unfortunately, (were) the last person who sent a text to their kids (before a deadly crash). And they also said, 'You'd better respond to me,' right? And so the parents have to live with (that, knowing that their child was) probably reaching for (their) text (when a crash occurred). You don't want that."
The making-a-difference Toward Zero Deaths program has been around 14 years. It started in 2003 because more than 700 Minnesotans annually were dying in crashes. By urging seat belt use and other safe practices, the program has helped reduce traffic fatalities in Minnesota by more than 40 percent, to 392 last year.
"Which was still 392 too many lives lost," Kostrzewski said.
So a focus now is on distracted driving, including that even talking on a cell phone is mentally distracting. And who wants any distractions at all when you need to be making more than 200 decisions per mile while driving, according to Kostrzewski?
As we dive into another busy summer vacation travel season, her good advice can be heeded and followed and shared with everyone we know: Stow your phone where you can't reach it while you're driving. Turn off its sound so you can't hear it. And get where you're going safely.
We can let that be our new addiction.
And we can remember, "We share the road together," Kostrzewski said. "You're sharing it with somebody's mom or somebody child. Everyone is somebody's child."
Toward Zero Deaths
To learn more about Minnesota’s Toward Zero Deaths program to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities, go to minnesotatzd.org
Click here to catch the News Tribune’s Pressroom Podcast. A new broadcast posts every Wednesday. This Wednesday’s show will feature the creators of Perfect Duluth Day, which is celebrating its 14th anniversary this month.