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May Your Days be Merry and Bright… and Distraction Free Behind the Wheel

EndDD.org co-founder Joel Feldman’s suggestions for keeping safe this holiday season as featured in the Huffington Post

This season it seems like there are more devices on the market than ever that bring news, texts, tweets, e-mails, phone calls, and videos directly to us no matter where we are at any given time.

Unfortunately, that includes when we’re behind the wheel of an automobile.

The holidays bring the excitement of travel to visit loved ones and presents, but the increasing number of distractions we face when we’re driving these days underscores the need to fundamentally change the way we think about distracted driving.

Not because you might get into a fender bender, but because it is literally a matter of life or death.

I don’t want to play Scrooge this time of year, “bah humbugging” the festivities as Christmas sits just around the corner, but I’ve spent years working to bring attention to this issue and I’ve learned that there’s never a bad time to save someone from distracted driving.

Consider this: On December 20, 2016 the National Safety Council released its estimates for how many will die on our nation’s highways over Christmas and New Year’s weekends. Between the two holidays about 700 will die and about 80,000 of us will suffer injuries severe enough to require medical treatment.

The good news is, these are preventable tragedies. Here’s what you can do:
Parents Should Be the Driver They Want Their Children to Be. Since 2010 I have spoken with nearly 100,000 students across the country about distracted driving through my organization EndDD.org. More than 75% of students in attendance admit that either Mom or Dad, or both, drive distracted with them in the car. Teens frequently tell me their parents are hypocrites when it comes to distracted driving. Teens whose parents drive distracted are about twice as likely to drive distracted compared with teens whose parents do not drive distracted. As parents we say we would do anything to keep our children safe. Actions are stronger than words. Let’s model safe-distraction free driving for our children every time we drive.

Adopt a Family Safe Driving Agreement. Parents can show they mean business by signing a Family Safe Driving Agreement with their children. It puts it in writing and creates a consistent standard for everyone in the family. You can download a Family Safe Driving Agreement on our website.

Friends don’t let friends drive distracted-speak up, speak out, save lives. A 2013 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study found that about 88% of those surveyed felt threatened by other drivers using their phones while driving. But that same study found that, despite those fears, 67% of those surveyed continued to use their phones while driving.

Today the vast majority of drivers won’t drive drunk and passengers will openly challenge a driver who is intoxicated. But how many of us speak up when we see someone driving distracted? We won’t let friends drive drunk so we should not let friends drive distracted. Don’t be afraid to call out distracted driving. And parents, let your children know that it is important to watch others who drive them and to tell you if they see other parents, or older siblings, driving distracted.

I know changing habits can be hard. We don’t make it easy as a society to reduce distracted driving temptations. For example, employers regularly invite me to speak to their employees about distracted driving out of a genuine concern for the safety and security of their employees. But often bosses and supervisors expect immediate responses to texts, e-mails, and calls, even when employees are driving.

I personally know how hard it is to change habits.
As a practicing attorney I frequently represented families whose loved ones were killed or suffered devastating injuries caused by distracted drivers. Yet I routinely also drove distracted.

That changed in 2009 when my twenty-one year old daughter Casey was struck and killed by a distracted driver as she was crossing a street in a crosswalk.

It was one brief moment in time, but it changed everything for my family and me. It shouldn’t take a life-altering tragedy to change the way people think about distracted driving. As we celebrate the holiday season with those we love let’s commit to safer driving now and into the future. These simple actions can keep you and those you care about safe.

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post on December 24, 2016.