"It was the first time I texted while driving, and I'm counting my blessings that nothing serious happened," said Anthony. "It was the last time I texted in the car."
Joel Feldman does not think of motorists who manage to text behind the wheel without causing accidents as safe drivers, only lucky ones. He experienced the reality of what happens when that luck runs out when his daughter, Casey, was killed by a distracted driver when she was struck while crossing the street in Ocean City, N.J., in 2009.
Since that horrible tragedy, Feldman has dedicated his life to carrying out the mission of End Distracted Driving, an organization he founded that desperately wants to educate drivers of all ages the real, concrete dangers of not focusing fully on the road while driving.
"These are crashes that are 100 percent preventable," said Feldman. "People lose their focus for just a few seconds, and it changes everything for thousands of lives."
Feldman spent Wednesday speaking to students at Pennsbury High School East about the realities of distracted driving. It's not just texting, but talking on the phone, eating, applying make-up or fiddling with the radio. It's an epidemic that also has no age limit.
"It's the parents that frustrate me the most," said Feldman. "They are the ones setting the examples for their children."
According to a 2011 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control:
- In 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,267 in 2010. An additional, 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011, compared to 416,000 people injured in 2010.
- In 2010, nearly one in five crashes (18 percent) in which someone was injured involved distracted driving.
- In June 2011, more than 196 billion text messages were sent or received in the US, up nearly 50 percent from June 2009.
The Pennsbury LYFT, United Way of Bucks County and the Lower Makefield's Traffic Commission arranged Feldman's visit on Wednesday to give new and upcoming teen drivers the tools they need to make the right decisions.
"I never tell them what to do," said Feldman. "When my son was 17-years-old, he told me, 'Dad, everytime you give me advice, it makes me feel stupid.' The best way to talk to kids is in a non-confrontational way and let them make up their own minds."
He doesn't demand that the teens stop driving while distracted, but Feldman makes a pretty compelling case. Through the use of public service announcement videos, live demos and just straight facts, Feldman showed how detrimental the simplest distraction can be.
Besides the obvious physical limitations of taking your eyes off the road, Feldman described that actual cognitive results of making driving a secondary task. The phenomenon, called inattention blindness, involves drivers looking at the road, but not actually seeing the environment.
"People think they are multi-tasking, but they are not," said Feldman. "They are just switching their attention to something else. Studies have shown that people lose 37 percent of their focus when they listen to sentences."
The effect of engaging in other tasks is similar to driving with a .08 blood alcohol content, Feldman said. As an example, Officer John Yeager from the Falls Township police department conducted a mock field sobriety test with Pennsbury students who wore special goggles that disrupted their balance. As the students staggered across the auditorium, it was clear to the audience how dangerous it would be driving under that condition.
Feldman puts the responsibility of undistracted driving squarely on the people behind the wheel, but he also thinks car manufacturers need to be more careful about the features that contribute to the problem.
"Studies have shown that there is no cognitive difference between hands-free and talking with the phone held up to your ear," said Feldman. "it's not the placement of the phone, it's the act of conversation that is the problem. There are cars that have GPS mounted on the dashboard. People are using them while driving 60 miles an hour."
Feldman will return to the school district in April 2014 to make his presentation to Pennsbury High School West students.