The intersection where my husband, Jim, was hit and seriously injured last March represents far more to me than just a geographic location. It has, in countless ways, become the intersection of “before” and “after”.
Before the collision, I never allowed myself to contemplate how it would impact our lives if Jim were to be badly hurt (or worse). Being married to an avid cyclist, that possibility was always somewhere in the back of my mind. However, I repeatedly made the choice to live in the present rather than be controlled by worry and fear. In those “before” days, I certainly could never have imagined all the ramifications such a devastating incident would have on our lives!
Every aspect of our lives is in some way or another defined by the events of March 20, 2020. In the following months I began to consider how I was to conduct myself in light of what we had gone through. It's not possible to walk away from such a dangerously close call without being forever changed. A life principal for me has been to refuse to allow the lessons learned in times of suffering to be wasted. An “after” person relates to the world in new, often eye-opening, ways. I needed to determine how this newly-acquired perspective would effect my life and behavior going forward.
Deciding to turn from feelings of frustrations and helplessness has led me down the path of advocacy. Road safety, particularly for those who are most vulnerable, has become a passion. Intervention in several key areas is necessary if we are to turn the alarming trend of increased deaths and injuries around. I commend all the hard working people and organizations across our country who are addressing infrastructure and legislative concerns, but that wasn't really where my heart was.
I have felt compelled to use my voice to motivate others by sharing this blog and asking people to take increased personal responsibility for their actions behind the wheel. For every single driver who commits to smarter, more conscientious, driving everyone in our community is safer! And the benefits will multiply exponentially.
April is National Distracted Driver Awareness Month. [Passed by US House of Representatives in a 410-2 vote; March 23, 2010] This month I'm inviting my friends and neighbors to join me in taking a stand against using cell phones while driving. Cell phone use is, by far, the most detrimental distraction on our roads, evidenced by an ever-growing body of reports and statistics.
According to a 2018 report issued by NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), 33,654 fatal crashes resulting in 36,560 lives lost! Here's what really astounded me – the total lives lost by VRUs was 12,339. That's 33.75% of the total! Vulnerable road users don't make up anywhere near one-third of all road users! Their 2019 report indicated that although overall fatalities were down 2%, “distraction-affected crashes” had increased by 9.9%. And that number only included cases where distracted driving was actually mentioned in documentation which, sadly, is often not the case.
In 2019, only one state had more deaths per 100,000 citizens than New Mexico, and VRU deaths in our state were greater than 35% of the total. (Reported by HLDI, Highway Loss Data Institute.) BETTER BURQUE.org anticipated a year ago that 2020 figures in NM would “statistically obliterate annual records going back to 1996!” There is room, here in my home state, for significant change for the better! In fact, every community can and will benefit when individuals become more concerned for doing their part to make their roadways safer.
When behind the wheel, we must be vigilant and alert in order to be prepared to react instantly to whatever comes our way. Minus distractions, we are most capable of weighing our options and acting quickly. In those situations, a moment's distraction can be the difference between life and death. And, in disproportionately large numbers, cell phone use is the culprit!
Most of us have convinced ourselves that we absolutely must stay “connected”, via cell phone, at all times. But, we've done so at an enormous cost! Even in cases like my husband's crash, where there is no substantiated indication of cell phone use or other contributing factors, distraction on some level nearly always plays a role. All things considered, practically every motor vehicle collision is preventable in one way or another. Braking, swerving, or choosing to hit something that is less vulnerable are all decisions that can be made in the spur of the moment to avoid or lessen impact and injury. Unless, of course, the driver is distracted!
This month I'm encouraging drivers to join me and more than 40 million drivers nationwide to take AT&T's It can Wait pledge:
“I pledge to always drive distraction free. I pledge to never allow my phone to endanger myself or others behind the wheel. I pledge to lead by example and spread the message. I pledge because I believe driving distraction free can save lives and make the world a better place.”
I encourage you to at least think about choosing to use your phone only when you're not behind the wheel. If you make this commitment, won't you please post on Facebook or Instagram and tag me? Or you can email me at Barbara@VulnerableRoadUsersNM.com.
I pledge to lead by example and spread the message,