As you hit the open road this summer with your family and friends remember to stay safe by avoiding distractions. Your safe driving habits can make a difference in saving lives, including your own, those traveling with you and those sharing the road.

As emergency room and trauma nurses, all of us have cared for patients that we never forget,” shared Stephanie Belton, RN, trauma program manager at the Wilma Chan Highland Hospital Campus (WCHHC). “Almost ten years ago I had a patient that still stays with me today and influenced my own driving habits.”

The patient was in a high-speed motor vehicle crash on Interstate-580 near the Fruitvale exit in Oakland. Most people would consider him lucky as he only suffered some abrasions to his face and a fractured forearm. His external injuries were minor compared to the emotional injuries and scars he would carry with him for the rest of his life. “I will never forget walking into the patient’s room as he lay there sobbing and repeating over and over ‘I can’t believe I killed him,’” shared Belton.

The patient was driving with his best friend in the front passenger seat.  The friend had repeatedly told the patient to “deal with it later” referring to an argument he was having with his wife over text messaging. The distracted driver, within seconds of looking down at his phone, rear-ended a stopped vehicle on the shoulder of the freeway and his friend was killed instantly.

According to data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are more auto accidents during the summer months than at any other time of year and this number only increases when you factor in teenage drivers. In addition, the vast majority of Americans, more than 97%, currently own a cellphone and more than 85% own a smartphone. Talking or texting is the leading cause of distracted driving according to the NHTSA and distracted driving is a leading cause of death for teenage drivers.

“We have seen a steady increase in motor vehicle collisions (MVCs) in the last five years and it has consistently been one of the top two trauma activations at the Highland Hospital Trauma Center,” said Stefania Kaplanes, MSW, community injury prevention coordinator. “MVCs have jumped almost 72% since 2013.”

As the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the East Bay, the trauma team at WCHHC serves patients from Alameda County and throughout the Bay Area with the highest possible level of care and expertise.

According to Kaplanes, there are three types of driver distractions. They include visual, which is anything that takes your eyes off the road; manual, which is anything that takes your hands off the wheel; and cognitive, which is anything that takes your mind off the task of driving. “Texting is particularly dangerous because it involves all three,” shared Kaplanes.

Sending or receiving a text message takes your eyes off the road for five seconds and at 55 mph that is like driving the entire length of a football field with your eyes closed.  After the phone activity ends, the NHTSA states that mental distraction continues for up to an additional 25 seconds.

Using a phone while driving is not the only threat to your safety, but to the safety of your passengers and others on the road including bicyclists and pedestrians.  There are several other reasons why drivers take their eyes off the road including eating and drinking, listening to music at high volume, conversations with passengers and the use of navigation systems.

Kaplanes shared some tips on how you can take action against distractions while driving:

  • Program directions and maps before driving
  • Use the phone app to delay calls and text messages
  • Discourage others from calling or texting while driving
  • Don’t call or text while others are driving
  • Request phone-free driving if you are a passenger

It’s also important to note that Alameda Health System (AHS) treats MVC patients in the emergency department at the WCHHC that are not activated as traumas.

Ultimately as a driver you have the power to keep yourself and your passengers safe by eliminating distractions and staying focused on the road ahead.

For more tips and resources on how to avoid distracted driving visit: