Wednesday, November 24, 2010

You Are How You Drive

Boom! I thought I heard someone hit an electric post outside my house as I raced to the balcony to see what was going on. Turns out it was a lot worse than what I had suspected. Lying on the ground, in the middle of the street, was a homeless man. The driver did not appear to be drunk as he explained to the police officers what had happened. We had heard him simply say, "no lo vĂ­" (translation: "I didn't see him"). It's hard to imagine how he couldn't have not seen him though. My street is not lighted up like a Christmas tree, but it is not pitch dark either. I began to suspect that perhaps the man was using his cellphone while driving when he hit this homeless person, who looked like he had a broken leg.

After nearly 20 minutes or so, which felt like an eternity, an ambulance arrived to take the homeless man away. I was relieved that he was alive, and couldn't help but think what had happened to the driver. In the U.S, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 due to distracted driving. An estimated half a million were injured during the same year. There are 30 states, including DC and Guam, which have banned text-messaging while behind the wheel. Furthermore, there are 8 states, including DC and the Virgin Islands, that have banned the usage of cellphones while driving.

While Puerto Ricans are said to be the world's most heavy cellphone users, legislation to ban the usage of them while driving has gone nowhere. Instead, more attention has been focused on drunk driving, which accounted for nearly 40% of auto accident deaths on the island over the past 10 years. Meanwhile, a study found more than half of the drivers on the island use their cellphones while behind the wheel, which is just as harmful (if not worse) as driving under the influence of alcohol. The only drivers on the island prohibited from sending text messages while driving are federal employees and truck drivers. Until the government deems that enough accidents have occurred as a result of distracted driving, and decides to pass laws to ban the usage of cellphones while behind the wheel, I suppose we'll just have to do a countless number of Hail Marys before hitting the road.

(The image above was obtained from, and is part of an AT&T campaign to encourage people not to send text messages while driving).

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