Abrahamson & Uiterwyk Announces Their July 2021 Distracted Driving Runner Up
Noelle Stephens is our 2021 distracted driving essay runner-up.
She’s a Florida Atlantic University freshman.
Here is her essay:
Getting My Full Attention
I’ll always remember the afternoon of September 19th, 2019. On that day, I received my driver’s license and my parents allowed me to drive a short distance, alone, for a smoothie. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, I’d just joined the more than 815,000 teenagers licensed to drive in the state of Florida. For most 16-year-olds, the driver’s license is a passage to a form of freedom. That’s exactly what I felt as I drove to the Planet Smoothie and parked the car — a privilege to travel on my own, even if it meant a drive of just a mile or two. At the same time, my parents had instilled in me the fact that being a driver carries responsibility for the safety of self and others. So, when I first started driving alone, I wouldn’t dare look away from the route ahead and the cars around me. It was always two hands on the wheel and two eyes on the road. I was cautious and defensive because that’s how my parents taught me to drive.
However, it only took a few weeks for me to become too comfortable in the driver’s seat.
Studies from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that one in five teenagers are involved in a car accident within their first year of driving. One of the primary reasons for this chilling statistic is that teen drivers are four times more likely than adults to succumb to the temptation of texting while driving. Teenagers like me are especially susceptible to frequently checking our phones because apps, and even the phones themselves, are designed to be addicting to young eyes. I know the feeling, the urge, to reach out and check my phone every time a notification dings or vibrates — and even when it doesn’t.
The desire to check my phone at stoplights began to pique by October, a month after receiving my license. It seemed harmless to look down while stopped. Like so many young people, I don’t like to leave friends “on read.” We’ve grown up in a culture where instant responses are expected. So I began to rationalize that it would only take a few seconds to respond to texts and that I could use my peripheral vision to check the traffic at stoplights.
My friends must have had the same mindset at the wheel. Whenever I would ride with them to volleyball practice or to grab a snack after school, I’d notice frequent glances toward their devices. Those glances gradually became longer and longer. It turns out, six of my friends were involved in car accidents in a matter of six months. They were fortunate to not suffer any serious injuries, though they did incur the cost of repairs and insurance increases. To me, it was obvious that the accidents coincided with a frightening pattern of behavior: they’d allowed phone-use habits to distract their driving. My friends weren’t the only sources of my growing fear. While driving, I’d look around and see people checking their phones and paying no attention to the road — or to me. I’d see this not only at stoplights, but also while driving on the highway.
According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, it takes less than three seconds for a distraction to result in a car accident. Sending the briefest text message takes at least five seconds. This tells us that you don’t have the ability to send a message, post a Snapchat, or comment on TikTok before braking in time to avoid an accident.
To help my own distracted-driving habits, I decided to set some self-imposed phone rules that my friends have witnessed and implemented as well. First, as soon as I sit in the driver’s seat, I turn on the Do Not Disturb feature, which mutes all notifications and sounds. Then I put the phone inside the console next to my seat and close it so the phone is out of sight. These simple habits make me feel safer and, ironically, more free because I’m able to react immediately when the unexpected happens. I’ve also become more aware of reckless drivers, which enables me to keep my distance from them. This is what people have known about driving for decades: defensive driving saves lives. Distracted driving does just the opposite.
I’ve also created safety habits when riding with others. I offer to read texts to them or put their phone away completely. My friends have come to appreciate the gesture.
It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it? Two years after receiving my license, I’m driving like I did when I was just learning to drive. I’m back to two hands on wheel and two eyes on the road — and being more cautious than ever. I’ve learned how easy it is to give into deadly temptations and to be too comfortable while driving. It feels good to have my focus back. There’s absolutely no harm in allowing Snapchat, Instagram, and iMessage to wait, especially knowing that the opposite can be so painfully true.