Twenty-five years ago next month, I began working at the University of Vermont Medical Center as a new nurse on a busy surgical floor. After three years of varied surgical experience, I transferred to the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, where I had my first contact with traumatically-injured patients. I learned quickly that these patients were often the most challenging in the hospital. Why you may ask? These patients and their families never expect to be a patient. These patients often experience life-altering injuries from which they may not return to their previous level of functioning.
Over the past 25 years, I have faced the same challenges that faced me as a new nurse: many of the injuries I see could have been prevented. The alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents that kill or result in permanent disability; the falls that could be prevented with a focus on safety; and now a new issue – distracted driving.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan declared May as Trauma Awareness Month. This month was set aside to focus on increasing education and injury prevention activities. This year, the American Trauma Society has focused on distracted driving with its theme: “If You’re Distracted, We’re Impacted”.
Many people think distracted driving is texting and driving, but it actually involves so much more.
Distracted driving includes:
- Using an electronic device (cell phone, GPS, or radio);
- Inattention due to a person’s state of mind (being upset, exhausted, or unable to concentrate); and
- Doing anything that takes your eyes off the road, including applying makeup or shaving.
Every day in the United States, more than nine people are killed and more than 1,060 people are injured in motor vehicle accidents that involve a distracted driver. What’s scary about texting is that it is taking away a driver’s attention more frequently and for longer periods of time than other distractions.
Think about these statistics:
- Text messaging creates an accident risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted;
- Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent of driving 55 mph the length of a football field blindfolded; and
- Using a cell phone while driving, whether hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver’s reaction functioning as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08.
I ask you one question: Is sending that one text worth it? We can take simple steps to keep ourselves safe. I challenge you to turn off the phone when you are driving, pull over if you must to talk or send a text, eat before you get into the car, and don’t drive if you are tired! But, don’t just follow these tips alone. Share them with your family and friends. We can all keep each other safer if we work together.
Working together, we can prevent injuries.
Jennifer Gratton, BSN, RN, is Trauma Program Manager at the University of Vermont Medical Center. The UVM Medical Center is collaborating with the University of Vermont Clinical Simulation Laboratory to develop and launch a program about the consequences of distracted driving to present to high school students.