I’m writing today on behalf of Amanda Williams. I never knew her. I just read about her in one of the dozens of tragic articles I get through Google Alerts every day. I’m writing for Amanda, because she can’t. You see, she’s dead. She’s dead because she chose to die. And, she’s not alone in the graveyard. She joins thousands of others, who also chose to die.
It seems counter-intuitive that anyone would choose to die. Admittedly, we have a significant number of suicides each year. But, these are the result of mental illness. As far as we know, Amanda didn’t suffer from mental illness. But nonetheless, she made a very poor choice. Amanda chose to look at her cell phone to read an incoming text while she was driving. In less than a second, she crossed the center-line and struck a truck head-on.
The article about Amanda arrived in my inbox next to an article with the following link:
I couldn’t help but put the two together.
We know that humans make mistakes. And we’ve been taught to learn from our mistakes. If we burn our fingers as a child, we learn to keep our fingers out of the fire. If we get detention for not turning in our homework on time, we learn to do our homework. These simple mistakes, followed by minor pain or punishment, result in new and different behaviors. It’s called conditioned response.
"Sadly, some mistakes are bigger than others. They don’t offer us an opportunity to learn. They offer us an opportunity to die."
Such was the mistake Amanda made. I wish I knew how to keep you and your friends and family from making the same mistake. But, it’s not so simple.
For nearly three decades, we’ve created professional, outcome-based defensive driving training used by hundreds of companies and millions of professional drivers. Does it work? The answer is sometimes. Our training materials have reduced accidents and injuries by 30, 40 or even 50%, but never 100%. So yes, defensive driving training can make a difference. But sometimes we fall short.
For 40 years I’ve studied accidents and why people have them. The causal factors fall into two clearly defined buckets:
- Honest mistakes made by people who don’t know any better
- Bad choices
We can fix the first category through more effective education and training programs. But the second category, bad choices, is difficult, if not impossible to fix through education and training.
I care more about Amanda than I do about statistics. But it’s worth noting that vehicular fatalities are on the rise. You’d think with all the new technologies, we’d be moving the needle in the right direction. But that’s not the case. Fatal accidents are up. Accidents, in general, are up. Why? The answer is simple. People are making more bad choices. The one technology that is leading us in the wrong direction is the cell phone. If Amanda didn’t have a cell phone, she'd be alive today. If Amanda had put the cell phone in her purse in the backseat, she’d be alive today. If Amanda made the right choice and didn’t look down when the text came through, she’d be alive today.
It baffles me why people make bad choices. Is it possible that with all the hoopla and attention given to the risks associated with distracted driving that some people still don’t know any better? That would be good news, because education and training might help. But I don’t think that’s the case. We have people who routinely look at their cell phone while driving. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t see people talking or texting on their cell phone while driving. Which brings me back to Amanda’s story.
On behalf of Amanda, I ask you to put your cell phone away. If you choose to use your cell phone for calls or texts while driving, you are choosing to potentially die. However, the disturbing outcome of such a choice is the pure selfishness of the act.
"When you choose to use your phone while driving you put me, my friends and family and everyone at risk. That is simply unfair."
Let’s learn from Amanda. Put your cell phone out of reach while driving or have the courage to stay focused on what’s really important. Ignore that incoming text - it can wait.