Put down the phone, catch a cab, buckle up

December 25, 2013 

The holiday season means travel as much as anything else. It means being in the car. It means highway driving. With all the distractions of family and dinners and carting around gifts, it’s important to remember to drive safely.

Accidents happen, but there is a way to reduce their impact and save lives. It’s in pretty much every seat: a belt. A September 2013 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injuries to front passengers by 45 percent. The risk of moderate-to-critical injury is reduced by 50 percent when riders use a seat belt. On top of those numbers, it’s important to note that only 1 percent of those restrained were fully ejected in a crash. A simple click can cut the chances of a tragedy in half.

Holiday parties often include alcohol, and drunk driving decreases the chances of wearing a seat belt. The study by the NHTSA found it was four times more likely for a driver with 0.15 blood-alcohol content to be unrestrained than a sober driver.

Another way to increase the possiblity of a traffic accident is being on the phone. Texting and driving has been the subject of national debate. It’s elevated to the point of having a separate government website devoted to distracted driving. Texting fits the bill for the three categories of distracted driving: manual, cognitive and visual. It takes hands off the wheel, and minds and eyes off the road. Sure, it’s only a few seconds to send that text, right? Don’t people need to know you’re on your way?

Well, that 4.6 seconds at 55 mph is the equivalent of crossing an entire football field, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Now, imagine making it from endzone to endzone in less than five seconds, blindfolded. Worried about being late? Think about how far behind a fender bender on New Year’s Eve might set you back.

It’s well-known that drivers shouldn’t get sloshed and then hop in the driver’s seat. There are a few reasons not to do it, the main one being not killing other people by speeding, swerving or not braking in time. The other is not killing yourself for the same reasons. Another big one is it can be the cause for some unique police interaction. The Pierce County DUI unit charges about 3,000 cases a year. Don’t be one of them. It’s well-posted on the highway that DUI patrols are in effect.

So, this holiday season, if you’re mindful, you can save money, time and lives by grabbing a taxi, buckling up in the backseat and using your phone to your heart’s content when you’re not behind the wheel. Maybe while you’re there, Tweet that you’re a safe driver and encourage others. Or stay where you are. After all, crashing on a couch is preferable to crashing on the freeway.

Car accidents are traumatic. They can cast a pall over entire families. Our story on A1 today focuses a young student who died in a crash. Or look at the backup on Interstate 5 this week. More fatalities. Simple caution doesn’t eliminate fatal crashes all together, but it does reduce the risk. So, buckle up, turn off your cellphone and keep alcohol use in check. After that, have a happy and safe holiday season.

The Centers for Disease Control’s 2010 numbers show impaired driving deaths account for nearly one-third of all fatal accidents. Those are national statistics, but there’s information here in Washington, too. In 2011, the state Department of Transportation counted 6,081 accidents that involved an impaired driver. One hundred seventy-five of them involved fatalities.

The CDC gives some tips to prevent drunken driving. If you’re hosting a party, ask that guests pick a designated driver beforehand, and serve non-alcoholic drinks in addition to any others. Take away the keys of those who drink alcohol.

This is true for the holiday season, but it’s also a good reminder for all year round. Don’t underestimate the speed of travel. Keep your phone off and your mind on the road. Be mindful of when you might need a cab or a place to stay to sober up. You could save lives.

The Peninsula Gateway is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service