‘I looked away for a minute’

Distracted driving becoming major issue

Sally Sanford had just purchased a new car and felt on top of the world as she drove her 2015 Mustang convertible off the car lot. The top was down and the sun warmed her smiling face as her blonde hair fluttered in the wind.

The 27-year-old Sanford scrimped and saved like a miser for two years to buy the red sports car with chrome rims and enough horses under the hood to outrun Secretariat.

Her smile, however, was turned upside down moments later. She wanted to tell her friend that she would like to drop by to show him her new “baby.”

She averted her eyes for a second to send a text. It was just for a second.

At that moment, in a quiet neighborhood, two brothers were playing basketball in their drive way. John Rodriguez was eight, Eddie was seven. Eddie dribbled toward the hoop and thought he had an open shot. But John blocked the shot, swiping the ball away.

It bounced toward the street. Eddie scrambled to chase it down.

Sanford’s text was short, saying “I did it. Be by in a minute.” As she hit the send button, she looked up.

She saw Eddie.

She swerved. But not in time.

Eddie was down.

Her “baby” with enough horses under the hood to outrun Secretariat crashed into a light pole. Sanford banged her head on the windshield, leaving a giant spider web crack.

Luckily, Eddie was more scared than hurt. He had some bruising but no broken bones. Sanford had a concussion.

“It happened so fast. You think it won’t ever happen to you,” Sanford said. “I was dumb because I sent a text while I was driving. I know better but because I wasn’t thinking, I almost took a kid out. I was so lucky.”

Indeed.

According to the National Safety Council, nearly 330,000 people in the United States are injured each year from crashes caused by texting and driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 3,477 people nationwide were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015, which was an increase of about 300 fatalities from the year before.

April is recognized as Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and authorities are urging drivers to “just drive.”

Composing, reading or sending any electronic message or using a communications device to access the Internet while driving is illegal in North Dakota and punishable with a fine of $100. The law applies to any driver of a vehicle in a traffic lane, even while stopped at a red light or in a construction zone.

Distractions not only include phone calls, texts and emails, but also PS systems, computers, applying makeup, eating and updating social media. These tasks take our focus off the road and create potentially dangerous situations for the driver and others on the road, according to the safety council.

According to reports, roughly 660,000 drivers will be using their cell phones or a similar electronic device while driving.

Texting or using a mobile device while driving is estimated to divert your attention for five seconds at a time. If you’re travelling 55 mph, five seconds is enough time to drive the length of an entire football field.

According to a study by AAA, as distractions increase, reaction time slows, brain function is compromised, drivers scan the road less and miss visual cues, potentially resulting in drivers not seeing items right in front of them including stop signs and pedestrians.

“When you drive a vehicle, your only job is to focus on driving that vehicle,” said Greg Grant, an independent safety professional and driver’s education instructor. “You start thinking about other things while you drive and you might not get home.”

There are simple ways drivers can keep their focus on the road, hands on the wheel and mind on driving, according to the safety council.

1. Pull over to use your cell phone, or let calls go to voicemail while driving.

2. If you’re going on a longer drive, schedule breaks to stop, park safely, and respond to messages and emails.

3. Know where you’re going before you put the car in “drive.” Put your destination into your GPS prior to getting on the road.

4. Avoid the temptation of looking at your phone by placing it in the glove compartment or in your purse until you arrive safely at your destination.

5. Do not call or text friends or family if you know they are driving.


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