Raise your hand if you have ever texted while driving, the people around you are probably wondering why your hand is raised but odds are it is. Now raise your hand if you have ever looked away from the road to find the perfect song or playlist, or even just made a phone call. That should be just about everyone. Even though some of these actions are not illegal, they are all cases of distracted driving, and can be fatal.
In the most recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report it showed that around 3,500 people were fatally injured and another 391,000 injured in car crashes that resulted from distracted drivers. Those are high numbers, and if you are anything like me, they probably make you stop and think for a little.
Everyone is told not to text and drive, it is not as if the concept of being distracted while driving is new. Yet I have been in the car with people of all different ages, all distracted by their phone. I do not mean to just call people out either, I am definitely guilty of it. Sending a quick text or snapchat, seems harmless enough but for over 9 people for day its the difference between life and death.
My first experience with the subject came when I was about 12. It was the holidays and my older brother was home from college. Being ten years my senior meant he was able to go out and enjoy the bars not too far from my house with one of his high school buddies, a normal thing to do for anyone. He had decided to be responsible and walk that night because he knew he would be drinking and it was only about a mile. As he was crossing the road, only a few hundred yards from my house a distracted driver hit him. I’m lucky to say that he was only injured but it could have been worse. The police report noted that my brother had the cross signal when the driver, who was distracted by their phone and did not expect pedestrians late at night ran the light. According to AAA, even after you put the phone down you are distracted for up to the next 30 seconds. That might not seem like a long time, but at 45 mph that would be almost 2000 feet of distracted driving.
The summer after I graduated high school the topic came up again in a big way. Although I was not fortunate enough to know Merritt Levitan personally, I had plenty of friends who did. She was enjoying her summer riding a bike with friends when she was hit and killed by a distracted driver. After her death, friends formed Merritt’s Way, a non-profit dedicated to spreading awareness about texting and driving, and the real dangers that it poses. You may have seen some of their campaigns, Text Less Live More, reminding people that its worth taking a break to be aware of your surroundings, behind the wheel or not. Although talking about it is a great step to help prevent texting and driving, it cannot be the only one, and with autopilot where it is today we still need to be very aware when we are behind the wheel.
Enter JoyRyde, an app designed by a Middlebury student after his sister was in an accident related to texting and driving. The idea behind the app is relatively simple, reward people for putting their phone down, and leaving it there. The app uses gps technology to track the miles you have driven, similar to most map apps. In addition, the app monitors your phone to make sure you are not doing anything else on it, from sending texts to selecting a song. Although it does not physically lock you out of the rest of your phone, the idea that you will be rewarded for not touching it is often enough to prevent people from using it.
JoyRyde currently has around 3,000 users, the numbers are growing as this is the first year it has fully been launched, who have collectively driven around 400,000 miles on the app. Although this is far from ending the problem, it is absolutely a step in the right direction. The apps creator Terry Goguen expressed his desire to create the app because he often drove his younger siblings to practices and school, and realized how easy it was to start looking at your phone. He wanted a solution which would appeal to drivers with positive reinforcement, like a game, to keep their phones down. Currently JoyRyde has rewards from partners like Uber, Cumberland Farms, and Give’r, among others. The rewards can range from dollar discounts to free apparel. The idea being that with more users, the potential rewards will keep increasing.
I realize that this is a sort of somber topic, and I do not want to come across as condescending to people who text and drive, again I’m guilty, what I do want is to increase the conversation surrounding the topic so that we can collectively work towards ending distracted driving.